When Clare Timberlake, a 20-year-old Gonzaga University junior, returned from Christmas break there was quite a surprise waiting for her inside the campus-area rental she shares with three other students.
When she opened the door it smelled like someone had died, and when she turned on the lights she found the house had been burglarized and trashed.
She called her roommates and the police, but since none of her roommates had returned from break yet, she chose not to stay in the house that night.
“It was freaky,” said Timberlake. “The house next to us also got broken into.” Thieves got in through the back door and judging by the mess it looked like they spent some time there.
“There was trash everywhere and the house was torn up,” said Karly Kurata, 21, one of Timberlake’s roommates.
And that smell?
“The burglars took our chest freezer, but first they dumped all the food out on the floor in the kitchen,” said Kurata. “It was just terrible.”
None of the four women had renters insurance and they all lost a lot of things: jewelry, about 50 DVDs, a brand new vacuum cleaner, stereo speakers and change jars.
“And they took all our cleaning supplies,” said a puzzled Kurata. “And my makeup and nail polish. Why would they take that?”
“There were food wrappers everywhere, like they’d eaten here,” Kurata said. “First we thought they’d stayed for a while. But now we don’t think so.” The home was sitting empty for about three weeks over the holidays.
The four women said they got excellent support from Gonzaga with cleanup, reporting the crime and meals.
“We were pretty freaked out. It’s just scary,” said Kurata. “And it was such a mess.”
Before students leave for break, Gonzaga’s Division of Student Life sends out a list of crime prevention tips including: lock doors, gates and windows and close the curtains; don’t leave cars parked in the street; stop the mail and newspaper and bring bikes inside.
Gary Gasseling, deputy chief of Eastern Washington University’s police, said campus police focus on the safety of students living on campus in residence halls.
“We tell students to make sure they unplugged everything in their rooms and lock up their personal belongings,” Gasseling said. “And never leave anything in your car.” Gasseling uses the student newspaper, The Easterner, to share crime prevention tips and he said some students aren’t as vigilant as they could be.
“Students want to believe there are a lot of good people in the world, and there are,” said Gasseling, “but it’s the 1 percent of bad guys you have to look out for.”
Kurata said thieves may be targeting student homes because they are easy to identify and often empty while students are in school and at work.
“Driving down the street you can easily tell if students live in a house or if it’s more of a family home,” Kurata said.
Since the burglary their landlord has installed a heavy-duty metal screen door on the front door.
The women hold little hope they’ll ever see any of the stolen goods again, and they just want to get on with school.
“The police told us most criminals don’t come back to the scene of the crime,” Timberlake said.