CHICAGO (AP) - When
street-gang thieves slipped with ease into a Norfolk Southern rail yard on
Chicago’s South Side and ripped locks off one train, they likely expected to
see merchandise like toys or tennis shoes. What they beheld instead was a
gangster’s jackpot: box after box of brand new guns.
The guns had been
en route from New Hampshire weapon maker Sturm, Ruger & Co. to Spokane,
Washington. Instead, the .45-caliber Ruger revolvers and other firearms
spread quickly into surrounding high-crime neighborhoods. Along with two
other major gun thefts within three years, the robbery helped fuel a wave of
violence on Chicago’s streets.
The 2015 heist of
the 111 guns, as well as one in 2014 and another last September from the
same 63rd Street Rail Yard highlight a tragic confluence. Chicago’s biggest
rail yards are on the gang- and homicide-plagued South and West sides where
most of the city’s 762 killings happened last year.
regularly blame lax gun laws in Illinois and nearby states that enable a
flow of illegal weapons to the city’s gangs and criminals. But community
leaders and security experts say no one seems to be taking responsibility
for train-yard gun thefts.
Only 16 of the
stolen Rugers have been recovered since the 2015 break-in, according to
hundreds of recent court records reviewed by The Associated Press. One was
used in a Jan. 22, 2016, shooting. Police woke an attempted-murder suspect
and found one by his bed. Another was in a dealer’s home alongside 429 bags
of heroin. Police recovered another during a traffic stop; the driver said
his friend had just been shot 10 times and he had to protect himself. “It’s
a war going on over here,” he told police.
On the night of the
theft, gang members found and kept a shipment of women’s sandals, according
to filings in the federal case of seven suspects arrested later in 2015.
Finding guns later was luck, not an inside job, prosecutors said. New
pretrial filings describe one thief using expletives to convey the
excitement as he ripped open boxes of guns: “Oh man!” he says. “These ...
Residents near the
yard are angry that the multibillion-dollar railroad isn’t doing more to
stop the thefts.
“In a place where
murders seem to be happening every single day, the last thing we need in
Chicago is a rail yard with guns being stolen,” said Corey Brooks, pastor of
the New Beginnings Church that hugs the yard.
Thomas Ahern, a
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent in Chicago until
his recent retirement, called the thefts “a serious (security) breakdown
that needs to be addressed.”
incentive to spend millions fortifying yards because railways are well
insured and don’t take a big financial hit when cargo is lost, said Frank
Scafidi, an ex-FBI agent and spokesman for the National Insurance Crime
Bureau. He said railways weigh costs such as new fencing against the odds
thieves will “win the lottery” and pick the one boxcar out of thousands with
South Side Aldermen
Pat Dowell introduced a City Council resolution after the 2015 theft
demanding a public safety hearing on the rail-yard thefts. It never
spokeswoman Susan Terpay said in an email to the AP that it was “mutually
agreed” with aldermen to focus on investigations rather than disclosing
“specific (security) techniques” that could aid thieves. Dowell’s spokesman
said she wouldn’t answer questions on the yard: “We’re focusing her time on
other things now,” Kevin Lampe said.
No arrests have
been announced in the September 2016 theft or the one in 2014, when 13
military-style semi-automatic rifles were stolen.
burglaries have happened elsewhere, including of 100 assault rifles from a
train in Atlanta in 2012. But the frequency in Chicago stands out, and it
has a lot to do with the city’s role as the nation’s freight-rail hub.
shipping-industry adage goes: “Cargo at rest is cargo at risk.” And in
Chicago, because of track congestion, cargo is often at rest.
Some gangs treat
rail yards as if they are shopping malls.
Suspects in the
2015 theft stole from trains “on a regular basis,” say filings. They
describe the thieves circling the Norfolk Southern yard late on April 11,
2015, hunting for trains to hit.
Lipscomb allegedly told his cohorts, including Alexander “A-Dog” Peebles,
“We going to make some money today.”
The train with guns
stopped at 1:20 a.m. The thieves belonged to two gangs and teamed up only
after running into each other in the yard because they couldn’t whisk enough
guns away alone.
A railway worker
discovered the theft at 7 a.m. after spotting broken locks and bolt cutters.
Within hours, the gangs were selling the stolen weapons, valued at around
$50,000 in all.
helped catch the suspects, most of whom are awaiting trial, after their
arrests for burglarizing another train.