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Backpack helps police find suspect

Chan Luang Saetern, 22, of Merced, was arrested Friday morning in connection with the Jan. 15 burglary of a Merced gun shop in which 12 handguns were stolen.

Detective John Fister of the Merced Police Department said Saetern was stopped about 8:57 a.m. Friday by Gang Violence Suppression Unit officers.

A search of his apartment in the 400 block of N Street yielded one of the guns taken from Stone's Gun Shop on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, another gun, a rifle, and a backpack that had pieces of smashed glass inside it, according to police.

Fister said the burglar was only in the store for 42 seconds but his picture was captured on video surveillance, including the distinctive backpack he was wearing. The burglar was wearing a ski mask with holes cut out for the eyes, nose and mouth. Bars were cut on the store's front door, the glass was smashed and cabinets containing the guns smashed as well during the brief "smash and grab" burglary.

Saetern remained in Merced County Jail Friday night in lieu of $500,000 bail. He was charged with being an ex-felon in possession of a weapon, child endangerment, commercial burglary, grand theft, and possession of a handgun with the serial numbers removed.

Fister said one of the guns was on a couch in the apartment and another was in a closet, accessible to three small children. Detectives also found $3,100 in $100 bills in an envelope under a dresser, believed to be from sales of weapons.

A .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun, fully loaded, which was taken in the 3:06 a.m. gun shop burglary was recovered. A .25-caliber semi-automatic handgun, its serial numbers obliterated, also was discovered, along with a Ruger "Mini-14" rifle, and a 30-round ammunition magazine with 20 rounds in it.

Fister said officers received information two days ago about Saetern and his bragging about the burglary. A search warrant was obtained and gang unit officers conducted surveillance on the house for two days. Saetern's car was stopped Friday morning as he left the apartment.

Cmdr. Floyd Higdon said anytime an arrest is made in a stolen gun case is a plus. He said detectives and gang unit officers still are working on the case. Fister said follow-up investigation is concentrating on locating the 11 remaining guns and those who may have obtained them.

Saetern has criminal street gang affiliations, Fister said.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or