A small town Georgia community rocked by the triple homicide of a local gun shop owner, his elderly wife and their teenage grandson is still reeling, as authorities still have not publicly identified any suspects Monday in what’s believed to be an armed robbery during which as many as 40 guns were stolen.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the City of Grantville, Georgia, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation is offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the triple murder that happened between 5:30 and 6 p.m. Friday at Lock, Stock and Barrel Shooting Range, a federal firearms licensee about 50 miles southwest of Atlanta.
The owner, 75-year-old Thomas Richard Hawk Sr., his 75-year-old wife, Evelyn Hawk, and their 17-year-old grandson, Luke Hawk, who was helping his grandparents close up shop while on spring break from high school, were murdered in what authorities said was an armed robbery. The Grantville Police Department said approximately 40 weapons and the shop’s camera DVR were taken from the scene.
Scott Sweetow, a former Special Agent in Charge of the ATF's Atlanta Division, speculated that the suspect or suspects knew the owner or were at least familiar with the shop, noting that although after-hours burglaries at gun shops are common, robberies are not because thieves usually are careful to make sure everyone is out of the shop first knowing that staff would probably be better armed.
"One of the things that we find historically when looking at guns for burglaries is that people know what they're targeting," he told WXIA-TV. "It would not surprise me at all that once this is solved, and it will be solved, that the people were either familiar with the location because they have been in there multiple times or they had some other sort of inside knowledge about what was going on inside that store."
"You would be astounded just how quickly guns that are stolen from burglaries end up on the street and are often used in crimes," Sweetow added.
As of Sunday evening, Grantville police chief Steve Whitlock told WMAZ that no suspects had been identified and no video evidence had been recovered. Flowers and crime scene tape remained at the scene.
"To think that we have animals like that living in our community blows my mind," Mike Menese, a friend of the gun shop owner, who ran the business for more than 30 years, told Fox 5 Atlanta. "I lost someone that I knew very well that brought a lot of joy to my life and my family's life."
"How can you hurt someone like that? How can you do that? It’s a sweet old man," he said, adding a warning for those responsible. "I don’t know if the criminals are watching the news, but I hope they are running because they are going to catch them. And I hope they do soon."
Whitlock, serving the town of just 3,200 people, said he was taking the news pretty hard.
"I’ve been here eight years, and we’ve never had anything like this," Whitlock told WSB-TV in a separate interview Saturday morning. "Right now, I’m just speechless. I have a hard time talking about it because they were friends of ours. I’ve known them for a long time."
"It’s really hard because we don’t have stuff like this here in Grantville. This is a nice, quiet little town," the police chief said, explaining he last saw the couple Tuesday and law enforcement usually stopped at the shop at least once or twice a week. "Tommy would do anything for anybody. It’s just a nice family. It’s been really hard."
The senior-citizen-age couple’s son, Richard Hawk, who works as the coroner for Coweta County, was reportedly the one to discover the bodies around 8 p.m. Friday and called police. He’s the father of Luke, who was supposed to graduate high school in May, according to a GoFundMe page set up by the family.
In an emotional message shared to Facebook on Saturday, Coweta County Sheriff Lenn Wood said that the "Hawk Family, the City of Grantville, and the Coweta Community were forever broken and changed by the senseless and tragic event that happened in Grantville."
Wood described Thomas Hawk as "a committed public servant" and a "personal friend of mine," who had "served faithfully for decades in our law enforcement community."
"Family was taken from the Hawk family, and us, way too soon and we are left with hurt, pain, and very little answers," Wood said in a statement. "I am a life-long member of Coweta and every family, especially the Hawk family, are a valuable and precious part of my life. My heart is hurting and my prayers to our God is that He is ever present right now with Richard and his family; providing peace, strength and overwhelming love from God and our community. I am also fervently praying that God will use our law enforcement community and the Coweta Community to bring justice swiftly."
Benjamin P. Gibbons, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Atlanta Field Division, committed to working "tirelessly to bring the killer(s) to justice," noting how the "brutality of these senseless murders," as well as the fact that those responsible acquired additional firearms makes solving the case a "top priority."