Some days, weeks or months hold a certain significance in your life that trigger specific memories.
It was a year ago this month, that I faced my neighbor in court for a second time. I was given the opportunity to tell him about the impact his actions had on our family in a statement that I wrote and read during his sentencing. The first time we met in a courtroom, was five months earlier at the beginning of February, when he was being arraigned for felony charges of burglary and a few other misdemeanor crimes including possession of stolen property. He was wearing an orange jump suit and mouthed the words “I’m sorry” to me when I looked over to where he was seated next to an armed guard. This was a few days after he was caught coming out of our home by a young, smart, quick-thinking State Trooper who is a credit to his profession in every way.
NYS Trooper Timko, heard the “burglary in progress” call come over his radio and knew he had limited time. He also knew this was for real. He managed to get to our house in less than three minutes, coming from across town, nearly five miles away. Even though six local squad cars also responded to the call, Timko was the first to arrive on the scene. He’d been checking in with us throughout the winter after responding to our initial complaint in November. As a result, he knew exactly where to go to at our house and indeed, found the perpetrator coming out of our backyard. When Timko apprehended him, this tough (creepy) guy was wearing slippers, a hoodie and his sister’s sweat pants. He also had black gloves and a blue ski mask on his person. That would account for why my husband didn’t recognize him when a flurry of images showing a burglar in our home, were transmitted to his iPhone via email, thus prompting the 911 call.
The “burglar” was wearing the ski mask as he crept up the stairs to our living room.
Seven weeks earlier we hid a motion sensor camera in our living room at Trooper Timko’s urging and after being robbed six times in three months.
It was a Tuesday. I was off and had gone out for lunch with friends. Before leaving I did the same thing I’d done every day for the past seven weeks. I unlocked the window leading to a crawl space underneath our porch in the small bathroom just off the family room in our basement. I glanced around the family room confirming that there was a few dollars and some loose change lying around, ran upstairs to the living room, made sure the camera was on, dropped a five dollar bill on the coffee table in direct view of the camera’s eye, locked the front door and left.
When I got home, I poked my head downstairs just long enough to immediately notice that the money was gone.
“Oh My God — he was here!” I thought to myself. Although at that time, I had no idea who “he” was.
My heart pounded wildly as I ran upstairs knowing with absolute certainty, that the five dollar bill I’d placed on the glass coffee table two hours earlier would also be gone and it was.
The words tumbled frantically out of my mouth when I called my husband,
“He was here! Why didn’t you call me? He was here! Did you check your email?”
My husband had no idea what I was talking about. There was no email from the camera. No pictures.
I didn’t understand. What the hell happened?
This was burglary number seven and by far, the most invasive. This was the one where much of my jewelry was taken, including my engagement ring and the first pair of gold Italian droplet earrings my husband gave me 18-years earlier. This was the time when it was blatant that my personal drawer and private things had been touched, taken and rooted through. I couldn’t speak. I was devastated. The long wait was over and we blew it. Surely, he would never come back. Why would he? There was nothing left. He had cleaned us out. I went to bed at 4pm.
It took my husband all night and several technical support phone calls to learn that in fact, the camera received 45-minutes worth of constant “hits” which began 10-minutes after I’d left the house but because of a windstorm the day before (and unbeknownst to us) our internet was “down” that afternoon and no pictures were saved or transmitted.
Forty-five minutes of constant hits.
The next morning, I performed my daily ritual before leaving the house but truly, it was only out of habit. I was beyond discouraged and didn’t even bother to leave money on the coffee table.
That’s why it was so hard to comprehend what my husband was saying when he called me at work that afternoon and calmly said,
“I just called 911. There’s a burglar in our house right now. I can see him. He has a weapon and he sees the camera. I think he’s going to break it.”
I was stunned.
It was shocking to learn the thief, was our neighbor; a 20-year old boy who had been helping himself to our money and jewelry, who had ripped our screen windows, cracked our doors and broke into our lock box. It was someone we knew, who had gone through our little girl’s bedroom removing holiday money from jars on her dresser and cards in her drawers. It was the boy next door, who had taken my son’s little, silver bear-bank filled with coins, the one that held the picture of him as a smiling infant in his crib. A quick and cursory search of my neighbor’s bedroom by law enforcement agents after his arrest, uncovered a few personal items that belonged to my family. I identified them and they were taken into evidence.
Once the initial shock wore off, we had a brief stint with elation. It was over. Over. Woohoo! We had caught this CREEP ourselves and it was finally over. Or so I thought. What I didn’t realize, was that it was just the beginning of yet another long journey I had no idea I, we, were meant to take. It began with five months of dealing with phone calls, court dates and an overworked Assistant DA who seemed confused by our level of “participation” and whose comment to me that he just couldn’t get over “how interested” we were in our case, left me dumbfounded and disheartened. Luckily, we had a DA friend from a neighboring town, who coached us along the way.
Sometime at the end of last summer, a NY State Trooper’s car pulled up onto my lawn and Trooper Timko came to my front door. He was personally returning the items found in a sock at the bottom of a closet in my neighbor’s bedroom during that cursory search after his arrest. Returned to me was one of my Italian droplet earrings, a gold “K” charm my dad gave me as a child and the now empty, silver bear-bank that was taken from my son’s room.
Of all the things he took, the one thing I miss the most, is the little round picture of my smiling baby in his crib that sat in the frame attached to the bank. It bothers me, a lot that he removed that picture.
And even though we were awarded full restitution of over $10,500, honestly, I would just like to have the picture back.
It was a year ago this month that I began a new and unsolicited journey, one that opened a Pandora’s box and hasn’t seen fit to close itself yet. One that has taken me to a place in my life now, that I never expected to be, interspersed with equal parts of immense joy and pain. One that in the past year, has brought forth many surprising twists and turns in the form of a variety of people, places and things, bringing me face to face with who I am and who I strive to be. It has re-surfaced old truths; the hard kinds, the ones that have been buried for a long time and will no longer go away. This journey leaves me a little sadder but much stronger and more determined than I have ever been. It’s difficult at times but it’s also hopeful, open-ended and holds great promise for the future and clearly, it is far, far, far, from over.
Photo Credits: #1, #2, #3 & #4 – © 2011 Karen Szczuka Teich. All rights reserved.