EAST ST. LOUIS — The frigid temperatures did not stop a huge crowd of people who had guns in their homes from coming to the Clyde C. Jordan Senior Citizens Center Saturday morning to the city's gun exchange program.
By 8 a.m., a line had formed waiting for the doors to open at 10 a.m., the scheduled time for the event to begin. The large crowd and the cold temperatures forced officials to start at 9 a.m. and shortly after 10 a.m., all 100 of the $100 gift certificates to Schnucks had been handed out to people who brought in guns.
St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly used $10,000 seized during drug raids to buy the gift cards.
St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said there were so many people waiting by 9 a.m. that he started letting them in.
"It was cold out there," Watson said.
Watson, along with East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Floore and Kelly, called the event a huge success.
"East St. Louis is very satisfied with the guns we were able to get off the streets Saturday. The streets will be safer for the residents, police, and our visitors," said Floore, who noted the city has had 18 homicides this year.
Floore said even though the event is over, he hopes that more people will continue to bring the guns in. And, he said there will be no questions asked and no arrests made.
The guarantee that no one would be arrested and no questions would be asked was a major reason why the response was so great, members of law enforcement said.
Watson said the $100 food incentive also was a motivating factor, especially at this time of year when Thanksgiving is right around the corner.
"A lot of the people who came out said the gift certificate of $100 was going to help them with their Thanksgiving dinners," Watson said.
Last year, officials collected only seven guns but on Saturday they took in 130 guns, Kelly said.
"We took all of these guns off of the street and we know they will never be back on the streets because they are going to be destroyed," Watson said.
"By 10:15 we had given out all 100 of the gift certificates, but there were still people coming in with guns. That's how we got 130 guns. Even though they didn't get a certificate, those who were already there when the certificates ran out decided to leave their guns, too. We were pleased with them for doing that. The goal here is to get as many illegal guns as we can off of the streets. I think we did pretty good here today," Watson said.
Included in the guns that were turned in were: sawed-off shotguns, 9 mms, .38-calibers, long shot guns, rifles with scopes, derringers and others.
Some East St. Louis parents were happy to see city officials and law enforcement doing something to get the guns off the street.
"It is difficult to hear about a child being shot or just someone getting murdered period," said Queen Clay, whose daughter, Brandy Roby, was strangled in 2004. Roby's body was found in a creek off Morris Street. Also, Clay's nephew, Lloyd Robinson, was shot to death two years ago on 15th Street.
"I am so sick of all of these killings," Clay said. "I am glad they are trying to do something to make East St. Louis and the other nearby communities safer."
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.