Emotions ran high in Carbonear earlier this week as victims of a string of break-ins rallied together in an attempt to find answers — and justice — for the wrongs they say were committed against them while on vacation.
There were accusations of inaction against members of the RCMP, a confrontation that included "pushing and shoving" between victims and several people with alleged knowledge of the crimes, and a voice recording of an individual with what appears to be in-depth knowledge of how the break-ins were orchestrated.
“It’s not good enough,” a frustrated Laura Butt told The Compass on Thursday, May 15, when commenting on her assessment of the police response.
Butt, along with six other residents, had their homes burglarized over the past two months, though up to Friday, no arrests had been made.
An RCMP spokesman emphasized last week that an active investigation is ongoing, with patrol officers and specialists from the general investigation section (GIS) tasked to look into what has been acknowledged as a spike in break-ins.
Like other victims, Butt was vacationing at the time her home was broken into, and the dwellings were unoccupied.
In her case, the thieves made off with jewelry and a pair of samurai swords, as well as numerous Mother’s Day gifts.
Since returning from her trip, Butt’s quality of life has been severely shaken and she has had trouble sleeping and eating. She has spoken with other victims, and they have expressed similar distress.
This led to a build-up of frustration amongst the homeowners this week, and it all came to a head Tuesday, May 13 when, as a group, they made their way to the police station in Harbour Grace.
Butt said the response she received from officers was not what she expected.
“We were waiting for an officer who was there that day, and he started taking us in one-by-one,” she explained.
Butt said people were singled out among the group and asked what they were doing in the station.
“People are traumatized here,” she said. “It was just unbelievable how he treated those people.”
Not satisfied with the response of the police, the homeowners began doing a little work of their own. This led to a conversation with an unidentified male. Butt recorded this conversation, and said the male spelled out in detail who was involved, how they were moving the stolen goods, and how they became aware the homes were vacant.
The Compass listened to the audio, and can confirm its authenticity, though it's not been proven whether the information is credible.
Later that evening, Butt and her husband, Stephen Kelloway, sat in their vehicle watching the home identified by the male "informant."
Things quickly got interesting, said Butt.
“We weren’t parked when an (all-terrain vehicle) came over the hill, fled into this driveway and parked next to a shed,” said Butt. “I said to my husband, ‘that’s him. That’s exactly who I was told about.'
“We could see them in the garage going with bags and packing up stuff.”
Also involved in the vigilante manoeuvre was another victim of the break-ins, Adam Dove.
"We actually seen people running with bags saying, 'Oh we're screwed, we're screwed, we're screwed,'" Dove told CBC News. "We chased them and couldn't find them, approached the young man and asked him questions. He totally denied, and I mean there was a push and a shove, nothing big, and an exchange of words. The RCMP showed up and basically I was almost charged with assault.”
Rattled by break-in
Prior to this incident, Butt often heard about break-ins but never thought it would happen to her. After leaving on vacation May 3, Butt received a phone call from her sister two days later alerting her to the break-in. The rest of the trip was an anxious one as every possible scenario ran through her head.
Upon arriving home, Butt made sure to wash all of her possessions, which took two days. Her sister had taken photos of the aftermath of the break. She was shocked by the images.
“It was like a movie,” said Butt.
Dove has lived in Carbonear for several years. He was in Cuba when his family was robbed, although he did not find out until returning home.
He lost jewelry, money, electronics and a ring belonging to his wife’s grandmother.
“They were in my children’s bedrooms, they took my children’s piggy banks that they were saving up to go to Disney World,” said Dove. “That stuff hurts. I mean, that’s not money; that stuff hurts.”
Dove said there was very little evidence of a break-in.
“The way we were broke into was very meticulous,” he explained. “You could see where a spike and crowbar went into the door, but there was hardly any damage … you’d never say anyone was in there.”
This robbery has changed Dove’s perception of the Conception Bay North community.
“This is Carbonear, this stuff doesn’t happen … that’s crazy,” he said.
While some are less than satisfied with the police response, RCMP Sgt. Greg Hicks offered assurances this week that officers were pursuing every possible lead, and that some suspects have been identified.
Because of the sensitivity of the matter, Hicks said he was hesitant about saying too much, fearing it may jeopardize the investigation.
"I understand there is some frustration by the perceived slowness of the investigation," said Hicks. "But we have to act on evidence; not public opinion."
As for the confrontation on May 13, Hicks said police received a complaint from a resident with allegations he was being harassed.
"He felt he had done nothing wrong," said Hicks. "Officers did mediate that situation, and no charges were laid."