Columbia police are searching for four masked men who tied up a fireworks clerk at gun point and robbed the stand he was working.
The armed robbery happened around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning.
The clerk was sleeping at the closed fireworks stand because it is manned 24 hours a day, even when it is closed for business.
The father of the clerk, who also works at the stand, told News 2 four men in masks came in to the fireworks tent and ordered his son to the ground.
“One of them had a gun so he immediately got on the ground,” Timothy Merritt said. “They duct taped his arms behind his back then they duct taped his mouth and they tried to duct tape his eyes shut.”
The men stole more than $1,000 in cash and several hundred dollars in fireworks before fleeing on foot.
They also stole Merritt’s son’s cell phone and car keys.
He was able to free himself from the duct tape and run to a 24-hour business nearby to call for help.
“I was shocked because you don’t expect something like that to happen, especially an armed robbery,” Merritt said. “We have had people come in and try to take fireworks, but we have never had someone come in with a gun.”
In fact, Merritt said on Sunday night two men attempted to break into the fireworks stand late at night after it was closed, but his other son who was watching the stand overnight scared the men away.
“Then strangely enough, the four guys who robbed us this morning told my son, ‘Hey, we had a couple of guys who tried to break in two nights ago and you scared them off,’” Merritt said.
Columbia police took several items from the fireworks stand as evidence, including the cash register in the hopes of getting fingerprints.
Officers told Merritt armed robberies are rare in Columbia.
“The last I heard they had some pretty prime suspects,” Merritt said. “I hate to think it could happen again because we have several nights left to be here.”
He continued, “We are going to up security. We are going to have at least two people here and one of them will be awake at all times.”
Police have also told the fireworks stand workers that officers will be increasing patrol nearby.
Anyone with information about the armed robbery is urged to call Columbia police at 931-388-2727.
Reporter Joseph Pleasant will have more on this story coming up at 5 and 6 p.m.