CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It started innocently enough with a teenager's trip to the movies in Huntersville’s Birkdale Village in October 2014.
Then someone broke into the teen’s car, stealing cash and a Glock handgun, he reported to police.
A month and a half later, that same gun resurfaced at a shooting in north Charlotte.
"Gunshots started ringing out at my house, like boom, boom, boom, boom!” said a woman living in a home near Interstate 77 that was strafed by gunfire.
Within two days, police said the same gun was used in four more shootings at homes and apartment complexes in north and west Charlotte. No one was hurt in any of the shootings.
“All I heard was gunshots, gunshots, gunshots, so I just fell to the ground,” Jenna McGee, who was living in a nearby apartment, said.
That gun was just one of hundreds of guns that are stolen each year in Charlotte.
Police said most of them are stolen out of cars by thieves who might identify their targets by looking for giveaways like a National Rifle Association or hunting sticker.
“We seize more weapons every year. More weapons are on the streets,” CMPD Capt. Mike Harris said.
Harris, who oversees the vice unit, said that from January 2015 through the end of October, police had seized 1,269 guns, taken into evidence or otherwise. Of those guns, 901 were used in some form of crime. Harris said many of them might have been among 287 stolen in the first 10 months of the year, which is almost one a day.
He said that once a stolen gun hits the streets, it moves quickly.
“In most cases, the person that steals it probably holds onto that weapon a day, two days, then it's gone. And where it goes, we don't know,” Harris said.
“That gun may hit that street corner so fast, because it's so accessible now,” Garcia Nelson, a former gang member in Charlotte, said.
KC Deminds, also a former gang member, is trying to reach out to young gang members.
Both Nelson and Deminds know the value of stolen guns on the streets.
“If you can sell that gun for some drugs, or trade it for some drugs, you're good as gold,” Deminds said.
A stolen gun can circulate in the underground economy for years before it surfaces.
A 9-mm gun stolen from a motel parking lot on North Tryon Street in October 2013 was used to shoot into a house in north Charlotte two weeks later.
Four months after that, police found it during an arrest in west Charlotte.
It took three years to find the handgun stolen from a car outside AMF Lanes bowling alley in south Charlotte in 2011, but not before it was used to shoot into a home off Camp Greene Street.
After a string of deadly shootings over Labor Day weekend, including one that killed a 7-year-old boy, police stepped up their efforts to get more illegal guns off the streets.
They seized dozens of guns and made a string of arrests within a week.
Police said the most effective way to stop the trail of gun violence is where it often starts -- with gun owners securing their guns in their cars.
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