As Pottawatomie County residents who lost all or nearly everything in Sunday's tornadoes continue to pick up pieces of their lives from the debris, three alleged looters have been arrested for taking things that don't belong to them.
The incidents occurred in the area of damage around Old Highway 270, Pottawatomie County Undersheriff Travis Palmer said. The trio, who were traveling together, were arrested on multiple complaints, including disturbing a disaster area, and then jailed on a $20,000 bond.
Palmer said an electrical line worker trying to restore power in the area noticed suspicious activity by the group and called sheriff's deputies. Palmer said a trooper made a traffic stop and the three arrests were made.
According to jail records at the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center, Jeremiah Cook, 24, of Oceanside, Calif., Amy Cook, 50, who has an Oklahoma address, and Kritzia Tatgiana Mejialara, 24, of Verde Vista, Calif. were jailed on complaints of grand larceny, receiving/concealing stolen property, receiving/possession/transporting stolen copper, disturbing a disaster area and conspiracy.
Formal charges have not been filed.
Palmer said the arrests in this case occurred as many residents who have lost too much already try to retrieve what little they can.
"We don't know if it was a crime of opportunity," Palmer said, adding deputies are patrolling a large area of tornado-damaged residences and will actively arrest anyone caught looting.
Palmer said among the items in the possession of the suspects were scrap metal and an air conditioner from a house.
Because there are many workers, volunteers and others moving debris and helping with relief efforts, he said looting enforcement can be difficult in some cases.
"We don't know whether people are helping or not — we don't know who's helping who," Palmer said.
Palmer, who said deputies have a big area of damage to patrol, said anyone who suspects looting should call the sheriff's office to report it.
Despite these looting-related arrests, Palmer said there have been more positive things to come out of this deadly storm in recent days.
"It's been cool to watch everybody working together to help others," he said. "That's what makes us Oklahoma strong."