LAWRENCE — The arrest of a 14-year-old boy with a loaded handgun is indicative of a growing problem in the city with teens carrying firearms, police said.

Police say the boy was shoplifting at Market Basket at 700 Essex St. around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday before he was arrested. 

Police were called after two juveniles were in a store aisle trying "to steal merchandise by placing it in a backpack that one of the juveniles was carrying," according to the report. 

As the youths tried to leave the store without paying, a store manager attempted to stop them. The boy, 14, ran back inside and headed toward the rear of the store. 

The boy tried to fight a 42-year-old store manager, according to the report.

When police arrived, they noticed the boy was wearing a small backpack and searched him for weapons. 

"... As we have had an increase of incidents in which firearms have been found in this style of backpacks, which are commonly called 'fanny packs," an officer wrote. 

A handgun loaded with two rounds was found, along with a small scale and some glassine bags, police said. 

During booking, the boy also lied to police about his age and said he was a year older, according to the report. 

He was charged with carrying a loaded firearm and shoplifting. His bail was set at $5,000 pending his arraignment in juvenile court, which is closed to the press and public because of his age. 

He was released to the Department of Youth Services and taken to a detention facility in Peabody, police said. 

Police Chief Roy Vasque said officers are encountering more teens illegally carrying firearms. A person must be age 21 to obtain a license to carry a firearm, he said. 

A meeting involving police, gang unit detectives and local juvenile authorities was recently held. Vasque said more guns aren't being seized, but the ages of people illegally carrying guns are much younger than in the past. 

He said it's believed gang members and others are having underage teens carry weapons so they won't face adult charges. 

"They are definitely trying to fly under the radar," said Vasque, noting youths in the juvenile justice system are more likely to face diversion and lesser penalties for crimes. 

"We are definitely making officers aware of this," he said. 

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill. 

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