On January 5, a couple was murdered in our sub-division. Three blocks (0.3 miles) from my house. They were an elderly, retired couple enjoying their golden years with hobbies and church activities. Their lives were ended at the hands of a thief/gunman in their home during the early hours of the morning. It was a tragic event for that family and our community.
As you might imagine, the neighborhood went into a state of semi-panic almost immediately. That is once we found out what happened. It's a long story that seems like a blur as I write this in early March, so I'll piece it together for you bit by bit. Let's start with an overview of the neighborhood.
Our neighborhood was once the prize of our community. It was clearly upper middle class -- nice big homes in a sub-division that was "the" place to live. The surrounding areas were nice, but our neighborhood was the cream of the crop.
But that was almost 30 years ago. Or at least 20 years ago. Since then the surrounding areas have gotten worse off economically, there have been "better" sub-divisions built a bit further out, and the upper middle class people have mostly moved away (many retired). Our sub-division is now firmly middle class (homes in the $165k to $200k range for 2,250 square feet and 4 bedrooms) with the areas directly surrounding it being lower middle class.
That was until the recession of course. That plunged the surrounding areas into financial despair and caused the foreclosure of many houses in my sub-division.
Crime Hits the Neighborhood
It started small and built over time.
First we had reports of people who were going around and checking car doors. If they were unlocked, the contents were stolen. Our neighborhood (through our homeowner's association) was advised to keep our cars locked.
Next it was people stealing things out of open garages. Even if the residents were home, criminals would walk up to an open garage, take stuff, and scatter. One neighbor even had a car stolen from his open garage (yes, he left the keys in it.) We were advised to keep our garage doors shut unless we were right outside by them.
Next it was reports of people going from house to house and trying the front door. Many people in our neighborhood never lock their doors. If the front door was unlocked and no one was home, the place was robbed. We were advised to lock our front doors. (Duh.)
Next there were break-ins. Criminals actually broke into people's homes and stole items. This was mostly on the perimeter of the neighborhood which is surrounded by woods (we live in the middle). We were advised to be on the lookout.
If it's not fairly obvious reading the above, let me state that I believe word had gotten out that our neighborhood was an "easy mark." The residents were fairly well off (very well off compared to surrounding neighborhoods) and were lax on security. Easy money.
Was it any wonder that things would keep getting worse until something really bad happened?
On Saturday, January 5 around noon I was driving back from swimming at the high school when I spotted a neighbor (he lives a few blocks away) coming towards me in the opposite lane. We both slowed, stopped alongside each other, and rolled down our car windows.
"What's happening on State Street (not real name)?" he asked
"What do you mean?" I replied.
"There are police cars all over. I wonder what's going on."
We chatted about it a bit more before he had to go on to his appointment. I decided to take the "long way home", driving by State Street to see what was up. Sure enough, there were several police cars all over the neighborhood.
I went home and told my wife. We assumed it had been a break in because we have had a few of those nearby recently.
The day went on and my wife got a call from someone on State Street. Word had gotten out that perhaps it wasn't a break in (only) but a murder. Yikes!
By the next day it was confirmed. The details were to come out over the next several days, but on Sunday we knew that a couple had been murdered in their home -- a house that was very, very close (too close) to ours.
As I said, the neighborhood went into a state of panic almost immediately.
We have an association page on Facebook where issues are discussed. Topics usually included neighborhood events like an Easter egg hunt, annual picnic, or sub-division yard sale. Now it was filled with rumors, police findings (we have a person in the association who is the direct connection with our police department), news reports (this was the lead story on all networks for several days and a story/update for weeks), and conversations on security issues (like what home alarm system to get.)
Our association leaders did a great job of getting information out to us and answering questions (they even set up a neighborhood meeting with police a week after the event to get an update). But there was little they could do to stop the rumors and panic. There was a killer on the loose. Where was he? Would he strike again? Would he hit our neighborhood again? People were ON EDGE.
The association started efforts to get group pricing/discounts from the various home security companies in our area. This took them a week or so to get all the offers together and by the time they did, the response from the companies was all the same: business is so good that we don't need to offer discounts. Yep, the residents were so panicked that many of them got new systems within a day or two of the murders -- no matter what the price. So there was no reason for a company to offer the rest of us a deal.
A few days after the murder, a drawing of a person of interest was released. Then a few days later I came home from work to find the front entrance to our neighborhood blocked by police cars. I went home the back way and we turned on the TV. News stations were broadcasting live from our neighborhood as police were searching a house for another person of interest. He was a young man who had lived at the house (with his mom and step dad, I believe) off and on and had had some run-ins with the police. They simply wanted to talk to him as another person of interest, but he wasn't there.
A day or so after this search, the young man was named a suspect in the murders. And so the hunt was on.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood was on high alert. Every front and back outside house light was on. Neighbors were watching out -- reporting anything strange on Facebook (if it didn't seem like a big deal) or to the police (if it did.) Police cars drove the neighborhood regularly. One day, a swarm of police cars descended upon one house. Was there a break-in again? Was the suspect there? The rumors flew on Facebook. The next day we found out the cause -- a neighbor with a new home security alarm had set it off and the police responded.
We were concerned, of course. We talked to the kids about the situation, and while they understood, they were less "freaked out" about it than we were.
We took some security measures, mainly turning on outside lights at night, making sure all windows and doors were always locked, and setting up automatic timers on lights to go on and off when we weren't at home. We discussed the pros and cons of getting a home security system and decided to wait to see what sort of deal the association worked out (which turned out to be nothing). Ultimately, we decided to wait to get one (if at all).
Then, of course, we left. Two weeks after the murders we were out of there. Off to New York City and then on a 12-day cruise. We had one neighbor shovel our driveway and another check our house every other day. We also kept the light timers on so it looked like people were home the whole time we were gone. We also requested the police stop by and check the home which they did a couple times while we were gone (they offer this service for people out of town.)
The first or second day we were on the ship I got an email from our neighbor -- they caught the suspect. He had fled to Chicago and a series of tips located him in an exact spot. The police swooped in, picked him up, and that was that.
Our Security Plan
By the time we got home in early February, things had died down a lot. The neighbors were less panicked and we were less on edge. After talking it over, we decided on taking/considering the following security measures for our house (note, we are still in the process of making much of this happen):
- Install shatter resistant film over our basement windows (it's a product by 3M -- you can get details here). We have a finished basement that has windows to the outside. This is the most vulnerable spot in our home as a thief could break a window and we'd never hear it if we were asleep (two floors away). With the film, you can slam the window with a baseball bat and it won't shatter. It will break, but will splinter and hold. I'm sure you could eventually get in, but the noise it would take to do so would scare away all but the most psycho criminals.
- Install dusk to dawn lights on the outside of our house. We wanted lights on the outside of our home that would come on at dusk and turn off at dawn (so we wouldn't have to keep turning the lights off and on.) We originally thought we needed to replace the entire light, but my wife found these screw-in devices. They screw in to where a bulb would normally go and then the bulb screws in to them. They turn the lights off and on as we want as it gets dark/light. And they are a fraction of the cost of replacing the entire light.
- Using light timers. After our cruise, we took down most of the light timers, but we left a couple (in our living room) going. They basically turn the lights on at 6 pm and off at 10 pm. Plus I set them to go off at 6:45 am so the walk downstairs in the morning for me is well lit. :)
- Lock the doors and keep the garage doors closed. We were doing this anyway, but we had a discussion with the kids on how important it was to be diligent. We also went over procedures for answering (or not answering) the door when someone knocks.
- Fix bedroom doors. Our bedroom doors haven't been able to fully close and latch since we moved in (13 years ago). The doors can shut, you just can't lock them. We are going to replace the knobs so that they can be locked (could be useful if someone broke into the house).
- Security system. We've pretty much decided against it. It seems both expensive and fraught with false positives -- especially with teenagers who don't pay attention. There are other noise-making security devices that we've considered for windows and our basement door.
- In-house security. We've had a lot of discussion about this. What should our plan be in case someone breaks in with the intent of harming one of us. Gun? Taser? Mace? Knife? Club? As you might imagine, there's a lot of debate in our house on this issue. We haven't yet reached a conclusion. Perhaps FMF readers could weigh in with your thoughts.
So that's where we stand at this point. Total cost is a few hundred dollars depending on what we decide on the last point.
Thoughts? Comments? What sort of home security plan do you have?