Jeff Ahlers Shooting: Gun Found in Drained Tempe Canal Less Than a Mile Upstream From Where Body Was Discovered

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Jeff Ahlers was found shot to death in a Tempe canal in June. Last week, a gun possibly used in his death was found less than a mile from where his body was discovered.
Last month, following the New Times article linked here, the Tempe Police Department reportedly had a canal -- in which the body of 47-year-old Jeff Ahlers was discovered shot to death in June -- drained so they could look for evidence. They didn't find anything, but a Tempe man walking on a canal path tells New Times he did -- he found a gun, and a cell phone, in the now-empty canal less than a mile upstream from where Ahlers' body was discovered.

The man, who wants to be identified only as Jerry, says he was walking his dogs with his wife on a canal path near Kiwanis Park in Tempe last Tuesday when he looked down into the drained canal and saw what he thought was a fake gun sticking out of the mud.

Jerry lowered himself down to the muddy bottom of the canal and discovered the gun was real. He says, a bullet was jammed in the chamber. Then, about 30 yards downstream, he found a cell phone.

He says he immediately turned the gun and cell phone over to police. He even asked cops if his picking up the gun would have tampered with any fingerprint evidence they may be able to lift off of it. They told him "no" because it was likely sitting in water for six months.

The canal, we've been told, began draining about three weeks ago in the midst of criticism that the investigation into Ahlers' death had stalled. Not to mention, the criticism that the Tempe Police Department was unable to determine whether Ahlers' death was a murder or a suicide -- information his friends and family are desperately seeking.

We've spoken with several of Ahlers' friends, each of whom say he was a happy guy with no reason to kill himself. All say the suggestion that he may have committed suicide just doesn't add up.

At the time of his disappearance, Tempe Sergeant Steve Carbajal told New Times Ahlers often walked along canal paths near his home and that there was nothing out of the ordinary about his behavior before his disappearance.

Carbajal said Ahlers had a good relationship with his family and spent his time doing volunteer work with his wife, which Carbajal said was going well.

James King
A Tempe man found a loaded gun in this now-dry Tempe canal last week. The gun was found less than a mile upstream from where the body of Jeff Ahlers was found in the same canal shot to death.

For months, we've been asking the TPD for updates on the case. Each time, we're told roughly the same thing: "We are actively continuing to work the Jeff Ahlers case. [We] do not have any information at this point that [we are] able to release."

They wouldn't even say whether a gun was found near his body, which, we argued, would only make sense had Ahlers killed himself.

It now seems the Tempe Police Department didn't even check the bottom of the canal at the time of the shooting, even after suggesting the victim had committed suicide.

Workers at a nearby power generating station say they weren't allowed to work on an area of the canal -- roughly, a mile-and-a-half stretch from Guadalupe to Baseline Roads -- last week because the TPD planned to search the canal bed for evidence. But Jerry beat the cops to it.

After turning the gun over to police, he says, he took detectives to the spot where he found the gun. He took us there this afternoon -- the canal grate where Ahlers' body was discovered is about 3,000 feet downstream from the spot Jerry found the gun.

Meanwhile, Ahlers' friends and family still have no idea how he died. The medical examiner's report is currently "pending" because the ME is waiting for information from the TPD before making that determination.

So, why did it take the Tempe Police Department nearly six months to drain the canal after finding a body in there? Your guess is as good as ours -- the TPD isn't talking.

When we first asked yesterday for an update on the case, we were promptly told "We are actively continuing to work the Jeff Ahlers case.  I do not have any information at this point that I am able to release" by a department spokesperson. 

In an email sent about an hour later, we asked more specific questions:

1) Do the police believe the gun found is related to the Ahlers case?

2) If so, does that signify anything as to whether it was suicide or murder?

3) To whom does the cell phone belong?

4) Why wasn't the canal drained six months ago -- when Ahlers' body was found shot to death and no gun was found?

We got no response to that email.

Finding a gun doesn't mean Ahlers' death was a suicide -- but that claim now makes more sense considering guns don't just get up and walk away. The gun jamming could also indicate whoever was holding it didn't have a good grip on the handle after the gun was first fired, which could also be consistent with a suicide, a former police officer familiar with firearms tells New Times.

But going to the very edge of a fairly open bank of a canal in a municipal park to commit suicide seems strange (the gun was found in the canal right next to a basketball court) which it seems is what Ahlers would have had to do in order to have his body fall directly into the water.  

If Ahlers was murdered, finding the gun gives detectives a better idea of where the shooting occurred, or, at least where it went in the water, because guns sink quickly -- more quickly than a body, or a cell phone (which Jerry found about 30 yards downstream of the gun).

If that's the case, and Ahlers was murdered, the location of the actual crime scene (not where his body was found) might have been helpful to detectives six months ago -- when the canal should have been drained.

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Wow....Thanks Mr. King for this story. You are a true reporter...Like many of Jeff and Kim's friends, we are all still at a loss as to why the TPD have dragged their feet with this investigation for so long. Jeff was a well respected member of the community, not some bum off the street, though I think the bum still would need to be treated with dignity & respect. This has caused great pain for many, and all we really want are answers. True, we may not know the secret troubles and agony of the inner person, but with Jeff, he was a great person, very funny, very good to Kim....I just wish someone at the TPD would take this seriously.


I wonder what the longest time is that the police took prior to giving all the necessary info to the county medical examiner. I am betting this is getting pretty close to it. Sadly, it does seem more and more likely that he took his own life. We will keep Kim in our prayers.

Dazed and Confused
Dazed and Confused

Check with the power company as to why they wouldn't let the Tempe police drain the canal back in June.


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Thanks for the story, Mr. King. Still so many question and very few answers.


Why does this have to be suicide FellowWorker? I am not saying that it is not possible, but why all of the inconsistencies? Why no suicide note? Why as the article suggests did Jeff go to an area like that and do himself in? Did you actually know Jeff? Did you think that he was calculated enough to shoot himself near a canal so that his body would drop into the water along with the gun ,putting Kim and those close to them through a living hell trying to find out if he were actually murdered or if he committed suicide? Again, did you actually know Jeff? I, along with some of his other close friends have some strong doubts that he did this to himself. Let's let wait till the investigation is complete before jumping to conclusions FellowWorker...however long that may take.


Yes, I actually worked with Jeff at Patterson and new him well. Yes, this is possible - however, I hope it is not. As you said, we will have to wait for the final outcome. Either way, I know none of this is easy on friends or family and the longer it takes for a decision to be made the more unnecassary strain is caused.

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