ATF hunting for guns stolen during Harvey

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - As Harvey was ravaging the Houston area, thieves were using the storm as cover to make off with dozens of guns.

Officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported that at the height of Hurricane Harvey, six gun stores were burglarized.

"It's just unacceptable for people to take advantage of a natural disaster like this," said Fred Milanowski, special agent-in-charge of the ATF's Houston division.

Milanowski said guns were stolen in four of the six burglaries. He said a total of 109 guns were stolen during a less than 48-hour period. However, Milanowski said this is a relatively low number when compared to the 30 gun stores burglarized and more than 1,000 weapons stolen in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

"We will do everything we can to have these individuals prosecuted to the full extent of the law," said Milanowski.

ATF agents were able to obtain photos from surveillance cameras in two of the break-ins. Milanowski said the other two stores security systems did not produce high enough quality pictures to yield usable photos of the burglars.

The ATF is now offering an $11,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of man seen breaking into an Academy sporting goods store at 10375 North Freeway. The ATF reported 12 guns were taken during this break-in.

The ATF is offering a separate $11,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of two people seeing burglarizing a Cash America pawn shop at 7014 Tidwell. A total of 84 guns were reported stolen during this burglary.

During the Cash America burglary, Milanowski said the company's security system alerted the ATF to the break-in while it was happening.

"The roads were flooded, ATF had a SWAT team available to respond, we just couldn't get to it," said Milanowski.

Flooded roads gave the thieves hours to work on prying open the store's gun vault and making off with 84 weapons.

"(They) hacked at it with tools and an ax and eventually defeated the door," said Milanowski.

Milanowski credits the lower number of guns store burglaries during Harvey to the ATF's proactive warning to all owners to secure their inventory. Milanowski said most owners heeded this warning; some even took the step of removing all weapons from their buildings. Milanowski said the ATF also took the step of providing HPD with the address of every gun store in the city so patrol officers could help keep watch over the businesses.

"Since (Harvey), we've had proactive surveillance teams and quick response teams monitoring all the gun stores in the city of Houston and Harris County," said Milanowski.

Milanowski said so far only one of the stolen guns has been recovered.

If you know anything about these crimes you are asked to call Crimestoppers or the ATF at 800-ATF-TIPS. You can also report tips through the ATF's ReportIt app.

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