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'I felt like it was time to take a stand,' Baton Rouge man takes matters into his own hands after he wakes up to stolen car

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BATON ROUGE - When Lionel Rainey III woke up June 23 to several text messages from neighbors, he knew something was up. It wasn't until he called one of them that he knew his home had been the target of overnight assailants.

"He said, 'hey man, I have your license and registration, and your insurance, it's in the road,'" Rainey recalled. "'Your car's been stolen.'"

Rainey would eventually watch the moments leading up to thieves taking his car on security footage from cameras installed on Hunters Court in the Willow Ridge neighborhood.

Video timestamped 3:41 a.m., shows several people walking up and down the street, at least one of them masked and armed with a handgun.

"This looked like a scene from the purge," Rainey said. "There were four or five armed gunmen in our neighborhood, walking home to home."

Minutes later, Rainey's Chevrolet Tahoe is seen, on that same footage, being driven out of the subdivision.

Rainey acknowledges he left his key fob in the car overnight, something he says isn't typical. Wednesday morning, moments after learning his months-old car was gone, Rainey described being in disbelief. That feeling, though, would soon morph into anger.

"It just infuriated me to think about somebody riding around and driving in my car," Rainey said.

His first step was calling the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's office to report his vehicle stolen. Then he phoned OnStar, which found his car in the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans.

Rainey managed to have the SUV's engine locked, so the thieves couldn't drive it anywhere else.

It was at that moment when he had a choice to make: leave it up to New Orleans Police to get his car back, or do it himself.

"I wanted my car back," Rainey explained. "I had someone drive me to New Orleans, and I got out of their car and walked into the area where my car was, and got it back."

It was adrenaline and principle that Rainey says led him to take the vigilante approach. By lunchtime Wednesday, the car, trashed and without a rear-view mirror, was back in his driveway.

"You know, it probably wasn't the safest thing for me to do, to go down to this neighborhood in New Orleans and steal my car back," Rainey said. But that was the decision I made. Again, I worked too hard for what I've got."

Rainey, who calls the video of people wandering around his neighborhood overnight terrifying, says until now, he hasn't seen anything like this in the six years he's lived in his current home.

"There's nobody in this parish that is immune from this," Rainey said. "People need to understand and be aware that this is happening in every single neighborhood."

While he doesn't recommend taking justice into his own hands, Rainey says he is fed up, and that crimes like this one will continue to happen as long as the perpetrators continue to get away with them.

He knows, had he or any of his neighbors woken up and ventured outside as his car, among others, was rummaged through and stolen, the situation could have ended much worse.

Now with new sets of car, house, and office keys, Rainey says there are several lessons he's learned.

"We're at the point now in this parish, where you better be ready to protect yourself, and protect your property, and protect your family," Rainey said. "That's where it is now. That's the level of crime here. You need to be ready, you need to be proactive, and you need to lock your car."

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