Sumter law enforcement investigating two attempted gun thefts – one successful – in 24-hour span

Published: Aug. 18, 2023 at 9:53 PM EDT
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SUMTER, S.C. (WIS) - Two groups tried to steal guns from two separate Sumter stores this week: one was successful and came away with nearly two dozen long guns.

Sumter law enforcement is looking into whether the incidents are related.

The first incident happened on Wednesday before 4:30 A.M.

In surveillance video obtained by WIS on Friday, five suspects, all wearing dark-colored hoodies and gloves, can be seen hopping the gun counter at Simpson Hardware & Sports.

They took the guns and ran off within 30 seconds.

The popular, family-owned store is on W. Wesmark Boulevard, not far from the Sumter Mall.

Shawn Matthews, the store’s co-owner, said their family has never had anything like this happen before.

“You feel violated, you feel like it just feels wrong, and you’re constantly asking yourself what could’ve been done differently?” he said.

Matthews, whose family runs five stores in the area, has faith that law enforcement will track down those responsible.

“You do something like this in Sumter County, or anywhere in South Carolina, it’s not going to fly,” he said. “You’re going to be brought to justice.”

The thieves got inside by shattering the glass at the front entrance, which has since been fixed.

A Sumter Police Department spokesperson said that it has not had a gun theft of this magnitude in over a decade.

“It’s the first time I ever heard of anything like this in this community over here,” Leroy Witherspoon, who lives in Sumter, said. “It was very unexpected.”

Less than 24 hours later, there was an attempted break-in at another gun store within the county.

According to the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, this incident took place around 10 P.M. Wednesday in the area of Thomas Sumter Highway.

When deputies were alerted, they responded and discovered that “one or more individuals had attempted to break into the business,” a release from SCSO said.

The Sheriff’s Office is leading that investigation.

Sumter Police said that its officers are working to determine if the two cases are linked.

Some Sumter locals, including Tanya Williams, are convinced they are.

“Of course, they’re linked,” she said. “I’m quite sure they’re linked. And if there’s another store out there, be on the lookout because you’re probably next.”

A federal report released earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that South Carolina ranks among the top 10 states in the nation in the rate of guns stolen from businesses licensed to sell firearms, like Simpson’s Hardware.

“I would hope that somehow we could reverse that by not selling so many guns,” Witherspoon said.

Williams said she was not surprised by that statistic.

“I guess we live in a gun state,” she said. “Me personally, I don’t like guns, I don’t think we need them. But other people think we need them. We just have to be extra careful.”

Some in the community speculated that the guns would be sold.

Others expressed concerns that these guns have fallen into the wrong hands, and could be used in a violent crime at some point.

“Where are the guns?” Williams said. “Where are they going to show up at? Is my family going to be safe?”

Sumter Police is offering a $5,000 reward for any information leading to arrests in the Simpson’s Hardware case.

Anyone with information about either of the gun-related incidents is asked to contact Sumter Police or the Sheriff’s Office.

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