“An unloaded weapon was found behind a concrete wall, impossible for any human to reach,” says IDOC spokesman Tom Shaer. “It could only be accessed by cutting holes in the wall. It was partially covered by mortar, gravel, dirt and other debris. There was no ammunition present anywhere. Cement cutters and heavy-duty equipment were required in order to open the wall.”
The statement explains that the initial investigation began in 1996, based on a tip that a firearm was smuggled into the facility. The tip led IDOC investigators to conduct various searches over 17 years.
According to Chicago Tribune archives, approximately 100 tactical squad officers were dispatched to the Pontiac Correctional Center in September 1996, after officials received a tip that a weapon had been smuggled into the maximum-security facility for possible use by gang members against a correctional officer.
An IDOC spokesman in 1996 told the Tribune authorities believed the unrest was connected to the January 1996 killing of inmate Florencio Pecina by a Pontiac guard.
“Three for one! Three for one!,” Pontiac inmates chanted after Pecina was killed. The message was clear: For every one inmate who was killed, three correctional employees would have to die.
According to the 1996 article, the weekend before the tactical search of the facility, “About 30 Pontiac inmates ripped out plumbing, lit fires and tore through cell walls to protest a new telephone system that limits the number and length of telephone calls and the elimination of a privilege that allowed them to mail three free letters a week.”
It is unclear if the cell walls inmates tore through in 1996 were in the same location as today’s discovery of the 17-year-old weapon.
“All leads and intelligence were taken seriously and thoroughly investigated, even as much time passed with nothing found and no related problems,” commented Shaer. “Recent intelligence that the weapon had been dumped inside the wall years ago led to this search.”
The investigation and search included Pontiac staff, IDOC Chiefs, investigators and intelligence personnel, says the release. “It once again proves that the Department takes every allegation seriously and investigates it fully,” said Shaer. “We stress that this weapon was introduced to the facility 17 years ago and that security measures have long since improved dramatically. It would be nearly impossible for anyone to repeat such an improbable act and we continue to ensure the safety of staff and inmates.”
We have reached out to union representatives for comment, but they have not yet returned our calls.