The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and Niceville Police released information separately which confirmed to Mid Bay News one of the guns involved in the February killings of two men in the parking lot of a Niceville strip mall was stolen from an unlocked car in Okaloosa County last year. An investigation into the shooting has led to multiple arrests. No trial date has been set yet.
Niceville Police confirmed the only killings with a gun this year in the city of Niceville were the deaths of two people in the February shooting.
The stolen gun is just one instance of a spate of vehicle thefts which have resulted in violent crime over the last couple of years.
Information about the model of gun, it’s owner and where exactly where the gun was stolen from have not been released. Immediately following the shooting, a Niceville teen found another firearm connected to the double killing, an AK-47-style rifle.
“Yeah, absolutely it frustrates me,” says Ashley Bailey, the Crime Prevention Coordinator at the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, “As a civilian, I understand that life happens. I understand people are coming home with groceries and kids and life in general. I understand that life will happen, but I literally go door-to-door in my ‘hot’ neighborhoods to remind people to lock their vehicles. The comment I get back quite frequently is ‘I’ve lived here for so many years, it’s very safe, I don’t have to lock my car.’”
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth A Pound of Cure.” -Benjamin Franklin
In 2022, criminals have kept pace with unlocked car burglaries from 2021 – which topped out at 427.
So far this year, thieves have burglarized 137 unlocked cars in unincorporated Okaloosa County. According to Bailey – 17 unlocked cars have been rummaged through in Niceville.
Most of those burglaries take place right in front of peoples’ homes as they sleep. “People are leaving their firearm in their unlocked vehicle specifically overnight, typically in their driveway of their home or condo or wherever they are residing for that evening. Those firearms are getting stolen and we can track those stolen firearms back to homicides and shootings here locally,” said Bailey.
Finally, Bailey says, gun owners have a responsibility to the community to behave responsibly with their weapons. “You do have an ethical [obligation], in my opinion, to do due diligence to make sure your firearm is locked up at all times,” Bailey said, “As a firearm owner myself, we bear a specific responsibility for having those firearms and making sure they don’t get into the wrong hands.”