Deployed U.S. Army soldier among victims in string of thefts

Christine Yearwood

Following the recently published article “GPD urges residents to check their storage units,” Gerald Police Chief Jim Helton says “a few” people have reported their storage units in town have been broken into including one being rented by a 27-year-old deployed U.S. Army soldier, Austin Schnelting.

Schnelting has served in the U.S. Army for seven years and is currently on his second deployment. When he and wife, Mercedes, learned that he was going to be deployed to Germany last September, they started to prepare for his departure.

Planning to relocate to a new family home after his scheduled return in July of 2018, Mercedes and their sons Miles, 5, and Jax, 6, went to live with her parents in Hermann. Austin and his father, Tracy Schnelting, rented a unit for the family’s belongings at U-Store It in Gerald, close to where Tracy was living at the time.

Schnelting on Jan. 17 discovered their unit was ransacked and that they were victims when she went to get the children’s winter apparel out of storage. She recalls finding the lock that previously secured the unit missing and scratches on the door of the unit near where the lock had been. Once she opened the unit she found the furniture they had stored was broken.

Apparently it had been used as a ladder to get to the items in the back of the unit. There were six duffle bags full of government-issued equipment missing as well as irreplaceable keepsakes from their children’s early years including baby blankets and other memorabilia.

According to Helton, this crime seems to be a target of opportunity. 

Helton said that it appears that bolt cutters were used to break into the units and it is believed that there was more than one perpetrator as items stolen from at least one other unit were over 100 pounds and would be difficult for one person to move alone. It is also suspected that the string of thefts from the Gerald storage facilities occurred on the same night and people are just now realizing that they are also victims of theft.

Gerald police officer Rich Anderson, who is heading the open investigation, says there are no leads at this time. However, once there is a suspect, they will be facing felony charges according to state classification.

Although Schnelting describes their situation as “pretty unfortunate” and although her husband is extremely upset he is also staying positive.

Anyone who has information on this investigation can contact Officer Anderson at Gerald Police Department. Anyone who would like to make a contribution to the Schnelting family may contact Austin’s father, Tracy Schnelting, at (636) 234-6887.