Armed robberies at two local fireworks stands this week are likely connected, authorities said Friday.
In separate incidents, fireworks tents in Derby and Goddard were robbed at gunpoint on Wednesday and Thursday nights after closing.
At about 10:15 p.m. Wednesday, a trio of robbers, one armed, stole several multi-packs of fireworks at the Wholesale Fireworks stand near Southeast Boulevard and East 63rd Street South. One of the men fired a shot at the ground. The following night, a pair of men fitting similar descriptions hit a Goddard fireworks stand, near U.S. 54 and South 167th Street West. One held an attendant at gunpoint while a second, his face painted like a clown, stole about $900 worth of fireworks. Police said the attendant fired three shots at the robbers as they drove off.
Their demands were the same, authorities said: The men wanted fireworks but no cash. Both gunmen had revolvers and the robbers drove a dark vehicle, according to police.
“We’ve worked with Goddard detectives today to see if there’s similarities between the two cases,” Derby Police Chief Robert Lee said Friday. “There’s reason to believe they were committed by the same individuals.”
Goddard Police Chief Sam Houston confirmed the partnership.
“We are talking with Derby investigators, and we kind of feel like these cases are connected,” he said in a phone interview Friday.
No one was injured in either robbery, police say.
Thefts at fireworks tents can be common during the week fireworks are for sale, but authorities say the robberies are unusual. Typically, the thieves aren’t armed.
“I find it interesting, but it may be as simple as being a target of opportunity,” Houston said.
When asked whether he knew of similar robberies locally, he added: “Not in my 35 years.”
Wichita police Lt. Doug Nolte also said he also wasn’t aware of any such trends.
Authorities in Derby and Goddard say they’ve increased patrols around fireworks stands.
Workers at Wholesale Fireworks in Derby say they are following suit.
“We’re doing our closing a little bit differently,” said 28-year-old Ryan Miller, a victim in Wednesday’s robbery. “Money handling is being done a little differently to make things more secure.”
The suspects in the Derby robbery are described as men in their 20s. The man with the gun is tall with a medium build, Lee said.
The other men are thin in build, police say. One wore a bandanna over his face. The other wore a white mask.
The Goddard robbers were also men in their 20s, police say. Both are about 6 feet tall with medium builds. One wore face paint Thursday, Houston said.
No one had been arrested in connection with the robberies as of Friday afternoon, Lee said.
Area police offered these safety tips for attendants and shoppers:
• Keep as little cash on hand as possible.
• Pay attention to anyone suspicious who is hanging around but not buying anything.
• Comply with a robber’s demands.
• Have cellphones available to call police if needed.
“There’s no amount of property worth a human life,” Robert said.
“It’s just an incredibly senseless crime to threaten or inflict bodily harm over fireworks,” he said. “ … It stretches the boundaries of all logic to be robbing for this.”
Anyone with information about the crimes is encouraged to call the Derby Police Department at 316-788-1557 or Derby Crime Stoppers at 316-788-8477 (TIPS). The Goddard Police Department is also accepting tips at 316-794-2051.