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Stolen guns had sentimental value

Two stolen guns from a Henleyfield home held more than monetary value, they are reminders of a brother lost during the Vietnam War.

Pearl River County deputies were called to an Albert Prince Road home on Sept. 26, in response to a break-in where two guns, handmade in Thailand, were taken, said Chief Deputy Shane Tucker.

Also taken in the burglary was an oxygen cutting rig, copper tubing and a window air conditioning unit. The suspects entered the home by breaking out a window pane on the rear door before taking two black powder, .38 caliber rifles and the air conditioning unit. The oxygen cutting rig and copper tubing were taken from an outside storage unit, Tucker said.

Detective Marc Ogden was assigned the case but did not have a lot of evidence to go on. Fortunately, a community tip led him to one of the suspects, 24-year-old Cody Pierce of 240 Richardson Rd., Tucker said. Further investigation led Ogden to 31-year-old Michael Lawley of 4 Joseph Burks Rd., Carriere, and finally to 53-year-old Carol Jarrell of 16 Joseph Burks Rd., Carriere, Tucker said.

The investigation showed Pierce and Lawley were responsible for breaking into the home and stealing the items before giving the guns to Jarrell, Tucker said. The investigation showed Jarrell sold the guns to an individual in another state, but they have since been recovered. The investigation also recovered the oxygen cutting rig and copper tubing in the woods behind Lawley’s home, but the air conditioning unit is still missing, Tucker said.

Pierce and Lawley were charged with residential burglary and Jarrell has been charged with burglary accessory after the fact, Tucker said.

The story behind the guns was a driving force for Ogden to continue to investigate a case that started with little evidence, Tucker said. The guns belong to Francis Michael Stewart, who lost his brother in the Vietnam war.

Stewart said his brother, Virgil Grant Stewart was an F-4 Phantom jet pilot during the Vietnam War. During Grant Stewart’s time overseas, he came across a gunsmith in Thailand who was known for crafting guns by hand for people in the area who used them to hunt game for food, Michael Stewart said. The guns were unique items. Not only are they entirely handmade, but they include rosewood and materials from water buffalo, Michael Stewart said.

During his tour in Vietnam, Grant Stewart sent the guns home, one for himself and another as a gift to Michael Stewart.

“But he never made it home,” Michael Stewart said.

During his 266th mission, weeks away from finishing his tour and heading home to meet his newborn daughter, Grant Stewart’s plane was hit while flying over enemy territory near the North Vietnamese border in May of 1969, Michael Stewart said. Grant Stewart ejected from the jet fighter and suffered injuries that he would lead to his death about four hours later. He was 26-years-old. Michael Stewart said the military knew Grant Stewart was still alive due to continued emergency radio contact with him.

Michael Stewart said he considers the guns to be showpieces, and he is grateful to Ogden for putting in the extra work to locate the guns and catch the individuals responsible.

“These guys did a lot of investigative work to track these (guns) down,” Michael Stewart said. “He made my day when he called me on that.”