Columbia Police are searching for four men who broke into a downtown gun store early Tuesday.
Thieves broke into King's Firearms and More on North Garden Street around 1 a.m., triggering an all-out manhunt.
"This is a firearms dealer - weapons, ammunition," said Columbia Police Lt. Jeremy Alsup. "We treated this very seriously given the nature of this business."
Investigators believe the masked men knew what they were doing when they broke in. Before entering the back of the building, the crafty crooks were seen on surveillance video casing the shop then snatching a surveillance camera.
"It would take someone that's familiar with the area, and where the position of the camera was they would have to have some sort of prior knowledge," Alsup said.
However, the suspects may not have known about the store's alarm system, which allowed police to have the building surrounded within minutes of the break-in.
At one point, officers believed the thieves were still inside the gun store, so they blocked off several blocks of North Garden Street for about five hours as a precaution. It also brought nearby businesses to a halt.
"They had about four blocks barricaded off," said Dwayne Strickland, manager of American Tire Company. "We couldn't get nowhere near the building."
Strickland said he and his co-workers rode out the morning in a nearby parking lot.
"I guess I'd rather be several blocks away than right across the street if someone was in there," he said.
While it may be back to business as usual, police say they won't rest until the thieves are caught, and they hope surveillance footage will be just the thing they need to break the case.
"We don't want any weapons or any firearms out on the streets of Columbia or anywhere else. For public safety, it is a concern," Alsup said.
The gun store's owner was still taking inventory Tuesday afternoon, but police so far don't believe the thieves walked away with any weapons or ammunition after being startled by the alarm.
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