The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Top Stories

May 29, 2012

Missouri National Guard releases records involving soldiers who looted from Wal-Mart

The Missouri National Guard has released records confirming that four soldiers were disciplined for taking merchandise from the ruins of a Wal-Mart store in Joplin one day after the tornado that devastated the city a year ago.

The names of the soldiers were redacted from the records released to the Globe by the Guard on Tuesday. They are identified only as three specialists and a sergeant who were part of a team of 16 soldiers assigned to look for survivors and assist in recovery operations on May 23, 2011, at the Wal-Mart store at 1501 S. Range Line Road.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last week that the Guard did not respond to an open-records request for details about purported post-tornado looting by Guard members.

Brig. Gen. Randy Alewel, commander of the 35th Engineer Brigade, had acknowledged that members of his unit took items after the tornado that claimed 161 lives and wiped out thousands of homes and businesses in Joplin. But Alewel had not provided any further details.

While the Guard is exempted from the Missouri Sunshine Law, Maj. Tammy Spicer said last week that the Guard seeks to provide “the maximum amount of information allowed under the laws that we follow.”

The 13 pages of memorandums released Tuesday reveal that an internal investigation determined that the soldiers took merchandise under the impression that it was going to be discarded by Wal-Mart.

Two specialists took hand-held Nintendo video game players valued at $138 and $169, according to the memos. A third specialist took a Kodak Easyshare camera priced at about $115. The sergeant took a notebook-size Nintendo video game player, some Xbox games and a headset, with an estimated combined retail value of $354.

The officer who conducted the investigation for the Guard reported that two of the specialists were working together in the same area of the store when they took items. Similarly, the sergeant and the third specialist were together when they decided to take items. But neither pairing was aware of the other two soldiers’ actions until they were confronted about the matter later in the week, and all four male soldiers admitted to taking items, according to the investigator’s findings.

The sergeant told the investigator that he had spoken to someone he believed to be a Wal-Mart employee about what would happen to the merchandise on the floor of the ruined store and was told that it would be destroyed. The sergeant acknowledged that he later was asked by the specialist working with him if it would be OK to take an item; he told him it would be since it was just going to be discarded.

The memos indicate that the thefts came to light when a female specialist saw that particular specialist put a video game player in his pocket and heard him ask the sergeant if that would be all right. She told the sergeant and the specialist that she thought it was wrong, and they told her the store was giving items away.

She later reported the matter to higher-ups “because she was frustrated no one would listen to her,” a memo states.

While all four soldiers admitted the thefts and returned the items to their superiors, the sergeant initially returned the video games but not the game player. When a staff sergeant confronted him about the missing game player, he brought one in. But it came to the attention of his superiors that the items he had returned all appeared to be used and not new enough to have just been on a store shelf.

The sergeant “ultimately admitted switching out” the video games and game player for used ones “because he had given the new one to his son and was embarrassed to ask for it back,” the records state. He then was made to turn in the ones he actually had taken.

The records show that the investigating officer recommended that the three specialists be demoted to privates first class and be issued formal letters of reprimand from the battalion commander to be placed in their files. The recommendation with respect to the sergeant was that he be demoted to specialist, that he receive a nonjudicial form of punishment, and that an administrative reprimand be placed in his file.

The records do not reveal what disciplinary measures were taken.

Advance guidance

MISSOURI NATIONAL GUARD records state that all soldiers who were deployed to assist in search and recovery efforts in Joplin after the May 22, 2011, tornado were told in advance “not to take anything other than essentials if they were offered by civilians.”

Text Only
Top Stories
  • r041614giregabby.jpg SLIDE SHOW: Teen with cystic fibrosis finds widespread support

    When the Nevada Show Choir performs its spring show on stage, it’s impossible to pick out the student with cystic fibrosis because there are no outward clues.
    Gabby Gire, 18, is just another performer. She sings, she dances, she smiles for the audience.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo 1 Slideshow

  • 041914 Wedding1_72.jpg VIDEO: Cancer patient walks down aisle in wedding thrown by friends

    A year ago, Schandera Jordan was diagnosed with a rare form cervical cancer. And months after a radical hysterectomy, doctors confirmed the worst: The cancer had spread to her lungs and pancreas.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Enrollment open for Joplin summer school

    Enrollment is now open for the Joplin school district’s summer school session, which will run Wednesday, June 4, though Tuesday, July 1.

    April 19, 2014

  • r041814capbus4.jpg Funding shortfall could hinder public transportation in Southeast Kansas

    For the past two years, Pittsburg State University sophomore Travis Cook has been using public transportation to get to and from his classes. He began using the bus his freshman year, when he didn’t have a vehicle to drive even to the grocery store — which is said to be the case for many who use the service.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bruner denied change of venue for murder trial

    Circuit Judge Gayle Crane has denied a change of venue for a defendant charged with fatally shooting an assistant football coach at Missouri Southern State University. The attorney for Jeffrey Bruner claimed pretrial publicity as the reason for seeking a change of venue in Jasper County Circuit Court.

    April 18, 2014

  • Russell family sues city, Joplin police

    Family members of a teenage girl whose suicide a year ago brought them into conflict with police officers and emergency medical technicians are suing the city and the Joplin Police Department. Kevin and Julissa Russell and their son, Brant Russell, are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in Jasper County Circuit Court. The action filed on the Russells’ behalf by Kansas City attorney Andrew Protzman names the city, the Police Department and Officers Austin Wolf and Tyler Christensen as defendants.

    April 18, 2014

  • Kansas Regents stick with social media policy

    After directing a committee to study a controversial social media policy and make recommended changes, the Kansas Board of Regents appears to not be changing the policy at all. It’s left some in academia baffled by why it appointed the work group in the first place.

    April 18, 2014

  • Britain Easter Pilgri_Cast.jpg SLIDESHOW: Good Friday observances around the world Around the world, Christians are coming together in observance of Good Friday, which they believe was the day Jesus was crucified. Here are some photos from Good Friday commemorations around the world.

    April 18, 2014

  • Missouri House votes to expand sales tax exemptions

    Pizza parlors, doughnut shops and even convenience stores all could be in line for a tax break on the food that they make and sell as a result of a measure moving through the Missouri Legislature.

    April 18, 2014

  • 041714 School safe rooms4_72.jpg Joplin school district readies community safe rooms for storm season

    Thousands of Joplin residents will soon be able to stay safe during storms in some of the region’s newest shelters. Community safe rooms at Cecil Floyd, Stapleton, McKinley and Eastmorland elementary schools, which double as gymnasiums, and Junge Field, which will double as a field house, are expected to be open within the next few weeks, according to Mike Johnson, the school district’s director of construction.

    April 17, 2014 2 Photos