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Thursday, June 22, 2017 12:06 am

Killing fields

PHOTO BY METERO CREATIVE CONNECTION

 

As Springfield police confront a wave of gun violence, a handful of firearms stolen in gun shop burglaries last year have turned up at shooting scenes as well as in the hands of suspected criminals.

At least one death has been linked to a gun stolen in Springfield last year, when 64 guns were taken in two gun store burglaries. Gun shop burglaries have soared both nationwide and within Illinois, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. In 2015, 110 guns were stolen in five gun shop burglaries in Illinois; last year, 280 guns were stolen in 14 gun shop burglaries in the state. Nationwide, 7,488 firearms were stolen in 558 gun shop burglaries last year, up from 4,721 guns stolen in 436 heists during the prior year.

Last October, burglars kicked in the door of Letz Hunt and Sport, a gun shop on the city’s east side, and stole 54 guns (“Gun thieves thrive,” Oct. 27, 2016). The heist came six months after burglars struck Farm and Home Supply on North Dirksen Parkway and stole 10 guns.

Police spokesman Mike Badger said that guns stolen in the two heists might have contributed to a spike in gun violence, but he also pointed out that guns are ubiquitous.

“There is a possibility that some of the weapons that were stolen in those two burglaries may have been involved (in recent shootings),” Badger said.

About a dozen of the 64 stolen guns have been recovered. A pistol stolen from Farm and Home Supply was found in the hand of a dead man discovered in a Chicago garage less than a month after the burglary. The man had a hood over his head and had been shot in the head, according to Chicago police, who labeled the death “non-criminal.” In February, Springfield police found a muzzleloader from Letz in a car during a traffic stop at the intersection of Taylor Avenue and Ash Street.

Last November, police found a pistol stolen from Letz outside a home on Converse Avenue that was shot up from the outside. No one was injured, but police estimated damage to the home at $5,000. In January, police found two stolen pistols, including one taken from Letz, inside a home on the 2500 block of Burton Drive that was hit by bullets. Police reports indicate a dispute between members of Sqad and Boss Playas, two local gangs, developed into gunfire.

Badger said that police have information that members of Sqad and Boss Playas may have been involved in recent shootings. “I don’t think they were, by any means, involved in all of the shootings,” Badger said. “They may have been involved in some of them.”

The day after the bust on Burton Drive, police found a pistol stolen from Letz in the pants of a 20-year-old Sqad member after stopping a car for a traffic violation near the intersection of South 14th and Brown streets. A pistol stolen in the Farm and Home Supply burglary was recovered about a month after the theft when police received a tip that a suspected Sqad member was packing heat. Police found the gun in the man’s sock when police pulled over the SUV he was riding in. Police say that Sqad was feuding with two other Springfield gangs.

“During this feud, all the groups have been reported…shooting at each other and carrying firearms in their vehicles,” an officer wrote in his report.

Less than two weeks after the Letz heist, police found two of the stolen guns in a house where a convicted armed robber who is a suspected gang member lived. Police were alerted when the man’s sister flagged down a Sangamon County sheriff’s deputy during a dispute with her brother and exclaimed, “He’s got guns in the house!”

Two children young enough that they weren’t handcuffed were in a home on South 13th Street when police seeking drugs served a search warrant last November and found three stolen pistols stashed under a couch. Reports don’t indicate where the guns were stolen from, but the reports were provided by Springfield police in response to a records request for reports on the recovery of guns stolen from Letz and Farm and Home Supply. Five days later, police acting on a tip found a pistol stolen from Letz in the front yard of the home, next to the sidewalk.

Less than three weeks after the Letz heist, police found one of the stolen guns after a 22-year-old man told police that he’d stashed the gun in his grandmother’s apartment. Police found the gun in the apartment, and no charges were filed.

On May 2, police found a pistol stolen from Letz and another handgun with its serial number scratched off in the basement of a home on the 1200 block of East Ash Street. The homeowner, who allowed officers to search his house, knew nothing about the firearms, according to police reports. The guns were found amid items belonging to the homeowner’s daughter.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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