In less than a minute's time, a burglar broke into a fortified Merced gun shop early Monday morning and stole several handguns before disappearing into the fog and cloak of darkness.
Lt. Bimley West of the Merced Police Department's Investigations Division describes the burglar of Stone's Gun Shop at 835 Martin Luther King Jr. Way as desperate and daring. He used bolt cutters to penetrate bars on the store's front door, then smashed the glass and several display cases to take the handguns before beating a hasty exit.
"It was pretty bold and brazen because the door faces Martin Luther King Jr. Way," West said. "This was not an amateur. He was very knowledgeable and testing the waters to see how quickly officers responded."
Police do not believe the gun shop burglary is related to one at 11:36 p.m. Sunday at The Cigar Monkey, 1716 Canal St., other than they are both what are characterized as "smash and grab" or "crash and dash" offenses. Several pipes were taken from the display window of the downtown tobacco shop.
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Officers are reviewing surveillance videos frame by frame from both burglaries and hope they identify the culprits. Even metal bars won't stop a crook if he wants to break into an establishment, West said.
Proprietors of Stone's Gun Shop declined to comment for this story. The owner of Merced's other gun shop, Gunrunner Gun Shop and Shooting at 2040 Yosemite Park Way, said they are in a high-risk business and break-ins like this can be expected.
"I feel terrible about what happened down there," Sandy Mitchell, Gunrunner owner, said. "You have to keep in mind the product you sell. It's not a question of if but when."
West said the gun shop burglar either rehearsed his actions many times or had "cased" the gun shop surroundings in advance. He said Stone's Gun Shop proprietors did all they could reasonably do to prevent the burglary but the resolute criminal would break down a wall if he had to.
"This person is one who must be stopped," West said. "That's how desperate these suspects are. He knew what he was doing."
Lt. Floyd Higdon said stolen guns could be sold anywhere to those who can't legally buy guns. Firearms have serial numbers which can be traced when they are recovered.
West estimated 60 percent of the guns police recover during their investigations are stolen. He is hoping the latest guns stolen don't fall into the hands of small children or adolescents.
In the Cigar Monkey burglary, West said officers patrolling downtown Merced heard audible burglar alarms and responded quickly. The burglar in this case is likely to be different than the gun shop suspect. There's a very good chance this burglar intends to smoke something illegal in the newly found pipes.
Mitchell, the Gunrunner owner, said her building has been broken into numerous times but burglars have never gotten into the gun shop itself. She said their guns are put into a safe at night and the store has audio and video surveillance systems as well as riot glass.
"It's part of our responsibility to take reasonable precautions," Mitchell said. "We have three levels of security and multiple alarms. Word gets out and that helps discourage burglars."
West said police are seeking the public's help in solving both crimes. Those with information about the Cigar Monkey burglary are asked to call Detective Brian Rodriguez or Detective John Fister with the gun shop incident. It's likely someone will hear about a person giving away or trying to sell these guns on the street.
Lt. Matt Williams said the extremely foggy conditions Sunday night and early Monday contributed to the burglaries.
Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.