JOPLIN — Four Missouri National Guard soldiers stole electronics from a Walmart in Joplin while helping with recovery efforts the day after the store was destroyed by a tornado, according to records released Tuesday.
The guard said three specialists and a sergeant who admitted to taking video game players, a camera and other items believed the merchandise was going to be discarded, The Joplin Globe reported.
The four men, who are not named in the records, were part of a team of 16 soldiers assigned to look for survivors and help with recovery at the store a day after the tornado devastated Joplin and killed 161 people last May.
An investigating officer recommended that the four be demoted, but the records do not indicate what type of discipline they eventually received.
The guard released 13 pages of memorandums to The Joplin Globe after refusing to release them last week to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The guard had claimed it was exempt from the state's open records law.
According to the records, two specialists stole hand-held Nintendo video game players valued at $138 and $169, another specialist took a Kodak Easyshare camera worth about $115 and the sergeant took a notebook-size Nintendo video game player, some Xbox games and a headset, with an estimated combined value of $354.
The sergeant told the investigator someone he believed to be a Walmart employee told him the merchandise would be destroyed, and he later told the specialist working with him it was all right to take some merchandise.
A specialist who heard that conversation and saw one of the thefts reported it to higher authorities "because she was frustrated no one would listen to her," a memo states.
All four soldiers admitted the thefts and returned the items to their superiors, although the sergeant initially did not return the correct video game player "because he had given the new one to his son and was embarrassed to ask for it back," the records state.