AUSTIN (KXAN) — A 25-year-old baggage handler at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport stole “numerous” guns from inside passenger bags at the airport, the Department of Justice alleges.
Between Nov. 29, 2016 and Feb. 2, 2017, officials say 25-year-old Ja’Quan Johnson of Austin traded some of the stolen guns for marijuana. Austin police have recovered five of the seven stolen guns. Johnson has been charged with theft from an interstate shipment and possession of stolen firearms.
On Thursday police confirmed Johnson underwent and passed an airport background check and has no prior criminal history.
Police say the first complaint came back in November, when a traveler’s gun went missing after leaving ABIA. APD got search warrants for Johnson’s home after months of watching employee card swipes and using airport surveillance video.
Austin police searched Johnson’s home on Parkfield Drive in north Austin in early February. During that time they also arrested his roommate Matthew Bartlett, 21, and charged him with felony possession of marijuana. Police say they interviewed Johnson and he confessed to stealing the weapons from airport baggage and was fired from his baggage handling job.
While conducting those interviews, police were also led to and arrested Catronn Hewitt, 36, who was charged with felony possession of marijuana.
Johnson faces up to 10 years in prison for each charge and was released on a personal recognizance bond following his initial appearance before a federal judge Wednesday afternoon.
The FBI, TSA and Austin police are investigating the thefts.
Passengers at ABIA say their trust has been compromised. “I know you have a key to my luggage. I expect you to, if you see something, go through my luggage and get what you need if it’s not supposed to be there. But I trust you not to go through my luggage,” said traveler Douglas Newton.
Trust or not, some passengers say they’ve accepted a harsh reality when they check a bag.
“The sad thing is if people want to get away with doing something wrong, they are probably going to get away with it,” said Danielle Carosello.
While the Austin Police Department says they are confident they have addressed all of the known firearm thefts from the airport, if anyone thinks their firearm may have been stolen from checked luggage at ABIA, they can call detectives at 512-530-7540.