A Nurse with a Gun

Friday, December 16, 2005

Over 600 Firearms Looted

Sounding an alarm about more than 600 firearms looted from Louisiana pawnshops, stores and other gun dealers in the chaotic days after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Crimestoppers Inc. and several local law enforcement agencies have teamed up to try to track down the stolen weapons. Tipsters can receive a reward of up to $2,500 for the arrest and indictment of anyone responsible for the gun thefts from 20 businesses in the New Orleans area, Crimestoppers Executive Director Darlene Cusanza said. The public also can collect a separate reward of up to $2,500 for the recovery of stolen weapons, she said.

Though the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, the Gretna Police Department and a handful of agencies took steps to remove and secure some firearms from businesses before and after the storm, looters still managed to find weapons to steal. Of the 20 stores burglarized in Louisiana, seven were in Orleans Parish, eight in Jefferson, four in St. Bernard and one in St. John, according to ATF Special Agent Austin Banks.

Looters made off with 75 to 100 firearms from BJ's Pawn Shop on Jefferson Highway in Jefferson before burning the store to the ground in the first few days after Katrina made landfall Aug. 29, owner Bill Jefferson said. Although he put all the handguns away in a safe, the thieves broke a cable lock and stole all the rifles and shotguns there, he said. Thieves also got past a steel door at his Gretna location, stealing 50 firearms, including some AK-47 assault rifles and pistols, Johnson said.

Hurricane-related gun looting wasn't just a local problem. Another 400 firearms were stolen from businesses in Mississippi and Alabama, according to Robert Browning, the ATF's assistant special agent in charge. Of the 1,000 guns looted from all three states, only 137 have been recovered. The guns have been found in Georgia, Arizona, Texas and Mississippi, but the vast majority have turned up in Louisiana, Browning said.

An unidentified New Orleans man recently was pulled over by police in Decatur, Ga., and found with one of the looted guns, Browning said. A search of a New Orleans home connected to the man turned up three more stolen guns. That case is still under investigation, he said.

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