(Greenville News) -- While the Oct. 13 smash-and-grab burglary at The Gun Shop may have been an isolated incident for Simpsonville, it's one of several in the region that have caught the attention of law enforcement, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Just before 3 a.m. on Oct. 13, Simpsonville police said three unknown suspects drove a stolen, white Chrysler minivan with a North Carolina license plate through the front door. The suspects then stole an undisclosed number of handguns before fleeing in a waiting getaway car, according to Simpsonville police investigator James Donnelly.
Eight days later, a case eerily similar to the one in Simpsonville took place near Charlotte. According to police reports, a stolen Mercedes SUV was intentionally driven through the front of Eagle Guns in Concord, North Carolina around 3 a.m. Friday morning. After the crash, weapons were stolen.
According to reports, more than 420 guns have been stolen in the Charlotte area this year.
“North Carolina’s getting slammed,” Donnelly said.
The act of purposely driving a vehicle into a store to burglarize it has become common enough that it’s now called ram-raiding. According to news reports, vehicles have also been driven into gun shops in Buford, Georgia, Newport News, Virginia and Louisville, Kentucky since July.
Federal investigators are offering a cash reward of up to $15,000 for tips leading to the arrest of those responsible for the incident at The Gun Shop.
The ATF is offering a reward of up to $7,500, which will be matched by the National Shooting Sports Foundation — the trade association for the firearms industry — for a total of $15,000, Special Agent Gerod King of the Charlotte division of ATF said.
“One of the crimes becoming more prevalent in North and South Carolina has been gun shop burglaries and robberies,” King said. "We're putting a priority on those, so therefore we're offering rewards on pretty much all of these cases throughout the Carolinas."
The Gun Shop manager Adam Medlin and Donnelly said they could not say what was taken from the shop as the ATF has yet to release that information. Donnelly said the case is progressing well though, and even better than he expected at this point.
“Things are looking positive and we should have some resolution soon,” Donnelly said.
Two days after the minivan destroyed the entrance at The Gun Shop, the store reopened for business, albeit with a very different look. The 3-year-old shop’s front door used to have windows on either side with security bars in one section of the windows. The windows and glass door were framed by a brick border.
After reopening on Oct. 15, the windows that were located on one side of the door have been replaced by a red concrete wall. A barred window remains on the other side of the glass door, but now in front of the glass portion of the building are five red concrete bollards separated a few feet apart.
Simpsonville Interim Police Chief Steve Moore believes the last time a Simpsonville gun shop was burglarized prior to this occurred in 2009. He said thieves in that case broke through a concrete block at the back entrance with a sledgehammer. The latest incident has him wondering what’s next.
“Businesses like these try to take precautions because they know this could happen. … The Gun Shop looked pretty secure (in the past),” Moore said. “That doesn’t account for the brazen, drive-your-car-through-the-front-door sort of guys that we had happen here.
“Any kind of physical security that you have up can be defeated given the ability of the criminal or outside the box thinking.”
While there are quite a few other stores that sell guns in Simpsonville, including pawn shops and Walmart, the Gun Shop is the first with a shooting range. Prior to opening on June 1, 2013, a city ordinance was changed to allow the discharging of a firearm in an indoor shooting gallery within city limits.
Moore said a big concern during debate by City Council when discussing the ordinance change was noise. He said the Police Department has yet to hear a complaint of noise coming from The Gun Shop.
“They spoke with the library next door, and library officials didn’t have an ounce of concern,” Simpsonville Planning and Zoning Manager Jason Knudsen said. “There’s nothing over and beyond they had to do to open there. … The range itself had to be approved by federal regulations.
“There’s no public safety issue there. It’s only a perceived issue.”
Anyone who was in the area of N.E. Main St. between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. on Oct. 13 is asked to contact Donnelly at email@example.com or call Greenville County Crime Stoppers at 864-23-CRIME.
Tipsters can also contact the ATF at 1-800-ATF-GUNS or email ATFTips@atf.gov.
All calls and tips will be kept confidential.