Tragic death highlights national gun campaign

The weapon he used to kill Donna Donna Petropolous in 2009 was a Winchester lever action rifle stolen from a rural property four years earlier.
The weapon he used to kill Donna Donna Petropolous in 2009 was a Winchester lever action rifle stolen from a rural property four years earlier.

Police are hoping the tale of a missing gun which led to the death of a young mother four years later will inspire the public to help law enforcement officers get illicit guns off the street.

A South Australian Police spokesperson said when a firearm was discovered missing from a rural property in October 2005, no one would have imagined it would end up taking the life of a young mother four years later.

It is this story police are using to launch Operation Unification which will run until Sunday, 29 June.

The story of Donna Petropoulos

Five years ago Mark Bampton shot dead his partner Donna Petropolous at her Mannum home while the couple’s two month old baby slept nearby.

Mark Bampton was aprehended by police in Adelaide a short time later, arrested and charged with Donna’s murder.

Police say the weapon used to kill Donna was a Winchester lever action rifle – the exact same weapon reported missing from the shed of a rural property four years earlier.

On June 20, 2009 Donna's mother Julie Petropoulos received a phone call from Murray Bridge Police asking if she knew where Donna or Mark were. 

“I knew instantly that Donna was dead or seriously injured,” Julie said.

“I drove to Murray Bridge – it was the longest drive and I knew my life was changed forever.”

Julie, along with her husband, now has responsibility for raising their grandson.

“I am no longer a grandparent – I am a parent all over again. We can no longer retire as we’d planned.  It has been really socially isolating. 

“People must remember that Donna was also a daughter, mother, sister, aunt and a friend that died.  They all died on that day,” Julie said.

A year after Donna’s death Bampton pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life with an 18 year non-parole.

“My message is clear: please, please, please do everything you can to help police keep guns away from criminals.  I never want another family to endure the hell mine has,” Julie said.

SAPOL Assistant Commissioner Paul Dickson said it’s tragedies like Julie’s that show the devastating link between illicit firearms and the danger they present to our community.

“As part of Operation Unification, we’re urging the public to help end gun violence by calling Crime Stoppers with any information about illicit firearms,” he said.

Police are hoping the phones will ring hot with information that will help shut down the supply to criminals, as well as recover firearms already stolen.

Illicit firearms are considered as:

- Illegally imported

Manufactured in Australia, or

Stolen from registered owners.

“Stealing weapons from registered owners is our greatest concern. About 1500 firearms are stolen across Australia each year, approximately 250 of these thefts happen in South Australia,” Assistant Commissioner Paul Dickson said.

“Interestingly two-thirds of those stolen are from regional areas.  And that’s why we are urging lawful gun owners to take stock of their storage facilities, to ensure they are as safe and comply with the Firearms Act and Regulations. 

“Over the next two weeks police will conduct security compliance checks throughout the State.  Firearms that are not safely stored are at serious risk of being targeted by criminals.

 “Some rural property owners may believe their firearms are safe in the ute, or shed. However, they can be targeted by criminals, who may be aware that firearms are not locked away. That’s their contribution and their obligation, to making the community safer.”

This nationwide Operation is being run in conjunction with Crime Stoppers Australia.

Crime Stoppers SA ChairSharon Hanlon said everyone in the community had a part to play in reducing the number of illegal firearms.

“Crime Stoppers is an important crime-solving program and we rely on information from the public about criminals and criminal activity,” Ms Hanlon said.

“If anyone sees something or hears something about illegal firearms they should say something by calling the toll-free 1800 333 000 hotline number or making a report online by visiting Crimestoppers," she said.

“With an average of 25 crimes being solved every week and more than 25,000 crimes solved since it began as a direct result of information provided to Crime Stoppers SA, this is a highly effective program that clearly has the trust of the community and makes South Australia a far safer place.”

Police urge anyone who believes someone has acquired a firearm or ammunition  illegally, or is making, selling or trading, to please call  Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

“Your information could make a vital difference in an investigation, potentially save a life or prevent serious injury.”

“Please make that free call on 1800 333 000 over the next two weeks and help us get illegal guns off the street,” Ms Hanlon said.

Remember, you can remain anonymous and you may be eligible for a reward.

Firearms facts:

Stolen Firearms in SA

2010/2011 – 267 firearms stolen

2011/2012 – 284 firearms stolen

2012/2013 – 275 firearms stolen

2013/2014  - YTD 241 firearms stolen

Over 90% of all firearms stolen are either Class A or Class B firearms.

CLASS A firearms:

Air rifles, air guns and paintball firearms; and

.22 rim fire rifles (not being self-loading rifles);.and

single or double barrel shotguns (not being self-loading or pump action shotguns) and includes receivers of firearms defined as class A

CLASS B firearms:

muzzle loading firearms (not being handguns

Revolving chamber rifles

Centre fire rifles (not being self-loading centre fire rifles)

Double barrel centre fire rifles that are not designed to hold additional rounds in a magazine

Break action combination shotguns and rifles

All other firearms (not being prescribed firearms, handguns, self-loading firearms or pump action shotguns) that are not class A firearms, and includes receivers of firearms defined as class B firearms.

Failure to store firearms in accordance with the Regulations may result in police seizure of firearms, licence suspension, prosecution resulting in up to a $10,000 fine or 2 years gaol.