BONNERS FERRY — After a long and successful career that spanned from his time as an Army Ranger, from being drafted into the military in 1971 during the Vietnam War, to years spent working for law enforcement agencies, teaching in colleges, training and much more, retired Forensic Firearm and Toolmark Examiner, Michael Kelley, settled in Bonners Ferry in 2016.
Even though Kelley was retired, he immediately reached out to Boundary County Sheriff Dave Kramer, bringing with him all the experience that his full working career had given him, and volunteered to share his wisdom, becoming a Level 3 Sheriff’s Reserve Deputy. This has proved to be an invaluable resource for the Sheriff’s Office.
After his time spent as an Airborne Ranger, a Paratrooper and an Elite Soldier, serving in the 75th Ranger Unit, Kelly was selected for the Army’s Delta Force. Faced with the choice of taking that path, being a part of the one of the most highly trained elite forces in the U.S. military, or choosing a different path, one which would lead him to fight criminals using a different weapon — forensics — Kelly chose the latter.
This decision led him to a long career using his advanced knowledge of firearms, crime bullets, ammunition, and the inner workings of tools such as a ballistics comparison microscope. His expertise took from all over, from work in the U.S., to Europe, to the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
One assignment found Kelly establishing a fully operational ballistics laboratory during battle in Iraq with enemy rockets exploding around the camp on a weekly basis.
“I worked as a ballistics expert and displayed the necessary talent and skills to catch enemy snipers and examining toolmarks which led to the finding of enemy bomb making factories, not through my former use of good ‘street work,’ interrogations and development of sources, but now through the use of the comparison microscope, science and knowledge,” wrote Kelly in his upcoming biography.
“Whenever that hail of bullets would pierce the air moving toward and striking the U.S. soldier, I was there to eventually receive those bullets and prove which sniper rifle fired the deadly bullet,” he wrote.
When Kelly finished his time overseas and settled back to the U.S., his adventure was far from over. He bounced back and forth across the country, from Florida to California, working with and for law enforcement, including the Los Angeles Police Department. His extensive knowledge also found him teaching, both to law enforcement and also students, through his position as an adjunct professor, including teaching for the California State University in the Forensic Master Degree Program.
Along the path that his career has taken him, Kelly had the opportunity to work on unique cases, such as one involving Audie Murphy, the most decorated U.S. soldier in World War II, as well a famous actor.
“Some of his medals were stolen and they sent several of the medals that they recovered into the Army crime lab where I worked the case,” said Kelly. “On his Purple Heart that he received, I was able to restore his name.”
All of this experience was something that Kelly did not want to see gone to waste as he enjoyed retirement. Choosing to come on as a reserve deputy with the Boundary County Sheriff’s Office was a way to pass on his knowledge and skills, not only by utilizing his skills to help solve cases, but also by teaching.
“We look forward to getting Mike to schedule and do a crime scene class for all of our deputies to continue to learn and brush up on skills,” said Boundary County Sheriff Dave Kramer.
Kelly not only chooses to pass on his knowledge to current law enforcement officers. He also spent time with a Bonners Ferry High School student who had an interest in forensics.
“Mike came in and set up a crime scene and spent the whole day with her, teaching her and walking her through — giving of his time and talent,” said Kramer.
“The way I look at it is, I’m an asset, and why waste that information that has already been diligently learned — and it has worked,” said Kelly about his reason for volunteering.
These skills came to play recently when Kelly assisted on a stolen firearms case.
“Mike has helped us with some stolen guns that we recovered where the serial numbers were obliterated,” said Kramer. “He helped recover some of those numbers, and while he is doing it, he is also passing on some of his skills. When he does volunteer work he is also teaching.”
Once Kelly was able to recover the serial number, that number was checked and found to be a stolen handgun. Sheriff’s detectives were then able to forward a report to the Boundary County Prosecutor’s Office, eventually bringing charges against the individual who had been in possession of the stolen weapon.
Sheriff Kramer is thankful to the extensive skills and knowledge base that Kelly has brought, as well as his willingness to give of his time.
“We want you to enjoy retirement up here and the fun things, but we really appreciate that you are not just putting your experience and training in a drawer,” Kramer said to Kelly. “You are helping us, and helping the community, by helping solve crimes and helping pass those skills onto others too.”