Lemonade Stand Robber on the Run: How DNA Could Help Track Him

A young boy selling lemonade in Union County, North Carolina was robbed at gunpoint. Now, authorities may be able to use DNA to find the thief.

On a Saturday afternoon in August, a 9-year-old boy set up a lemonade stand at the entrance of his Monroe neighborhood, 30 miles southeast of Charlotte. His goal was to earn enough money to buy a new lawnmower for his other business, mowing lawns around town. Around 3 p.m., the boy stated that he was approached by a male teenager in a camo hat who allegedly stuck a gun to his stomach and demanded money. After stealing the boy’s metal tin containing $17, the suspect fled on foot, but authorities are hopeful they may still be able to apprehend him with evidence found near the scene.

“While searching the area for the suspect, deputies located a trail in the woods where a camo hat, a black-colored BB handgun and the stolen metal tin were recovered,” said the sheriff’s office. “Deputies believe the suspect left a bicycle and walked from there to the lemonade stand before the robbery.” Authorities are hopeful that fingerprint and DNA evidence collected from these items, along with any video evidence gathered from neighbors, will be enough to identify and apprehend the offender.

Since DNA was first used to convict Richard Buckland in 1986, it has proved an invaluable tool, aiding law enforcement and forensic scientists in the conviction of criminals in many murder and rape cases. DNA testing has become ubiquitous in major criminal investigations, but authorities are now beginning to use it to solve other, less violent crimes. In one 2006 case from Denver, investigators used saliva found on cigarette butts at the crime scene to catch a pair of burglars, resulting in a 40 percent reduction in the local burglary rate.

David Hagy, Director of the National Institute of Justice, found that “twice as many suspects were identified, twice as many were arrested and more than twice as many were prosecuted” when DNA was used in burglary cases, according to a randomized study conducted by his team.

While DNA may eventually lead to an arrest in the case of the lemonade stand thief, the young entrepreneur isn’t letting the robbery deter him from his goals. He was back selling lemonade in front of the neighborhood pool the next day, and his father reported tremendous outreach and support from the local community.