By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
While Federal Bureau of Investigation agents search for three “persons of interest” in fires at four Gulf Coast Walmart stores – including two in Mobile – company officials are taking steps to prevent another fire from happening.
Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks confirmed Monday, June 7, reports that off-duty APD officers have been hired to help keep watch over the local store.
“Walmart has hired off-duty officers for added security in response to area fires being set,” Brooks said. “Usually, we’ve had one officer there all day, but some days we’ve broken it up and used two different officers.”
The initial plan was to furnish the police personnel through Friday of this week (June 11), but company officials have requested that the on-premises protection continue through at least Sunday, June 13, although no threats have been aimed at the Atmore store.
“There haven’t been any direct threats against our store here,” Brooks said. “Walmart put this in place. They reached out to law enforcement for some help, so we’re helping them out.”
The FBI has offered rewards for information on three suspicious people — two men and a woman — who have been seen in surveillance video from the various stores at which fires have already been set. Federal investigators say an accelerant was used in at least one of the blazes.
FBI agents believe the same people who set the Alabama fires are also responsible for those in Mississippi and have set a bounty of $2,500 for information related to the individuals involved in each of the fires. Anyone having information that might lead to an arrest is urged to call 251-438-3674.
The Beltline Road store in Mobile was the first to be attacked by the arsonists. That store was set ablaze on May 27. A day later the Tillman’s Corner store, which is about nine miles south of Walmart’s Beltline Road outlet, was torched.
Last Friday, June 4, both the Mississippi stores were set afire, as the suspects appeared to move westward along the Gulf Coast. The company reported June 7 that three of the four stores had reopened. The one at Tillman’s Corner remains closed.
“Our focus right now is the safety of our associates and customers,” a Walmart spokesman said in an emailed statement. “We will continue to work closely with law enforcement officials to resolve this as quickly as possible.”