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Rash of burglaries sets the nerves and teeth of one rural community on edge
Lowing cattle and barking dogs, the occasional keening of a sawmill blade biting into a bit of wood, tractors ambling over broad, green fields.
Sights and sounds one expects, even embraces, along rural 376th Street Southeast between Auburn and Enumclaw.
But lately an ugly, unwelcome invader has upended the country calm of this neighborhood.
And the people who live there, who love living there, who have always loved living there, are fed up.
"It's just been getting more and more frequent; they just come in and take what they want," homeowner Debbie Frederickson complained of the rash of burglaries that, for the better part of a year, have set the nerves and teeth of friends and neighbors on edge.
"We knew of things that had been happening in the greater community around here, but we thought it wouldn't happen here, 'not in our small community,'" added Frederickson, who lost a valuable generator to burglary.
If Toni Swanson-deCarteret once told herself, "it couldn't happen here", burglars have since enlightened her.
Between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on March 29, burglars took advantage of one of Swanson-deCarteret's rare absences from home, broke her front door frame, popped out the oval glass and walked in. Then, rifling doors and cupboards as they went along, they stole from her living room, her master bedroom and her office.
Swanson-deCarteret estimates that the burglars got away with about $2,500 worth of items.
But her family tried to put what had happened behind them.
Except that one week later it happened again. This time burglars targeted the basement but left behind no clues to show how they had gotten in.
"At first we didn't notice anything amiss, then the kids kept coming upstairs and asking, 'Did you take the TV, did you take my Xbox, where's my iPod?' It just makes me angry. It's scary knowing that they are so brazen that they come in broad daylight and help themselves. Usually I am at home, so it's just random when I'm gone and when I'm not," Swanson-deCarteret said.
Except that by this time, few there believe that is random. Too many fortuitously-timed burglaries have convinced residents that thieves are watching their comings and goings.
Some people are afraid to leave their homes.
A number have started to take security precautions they never had to take before.
And every passing car is now an intense object of interest to hundreds of watchful eyes.
One afternoon Swanson-deCarteret noticed as she was driving by the property of an elderly neighbor a hatchback, its hatch open, backed up to the woman's shed. She pulled onto the driveway, expecting to block the burglar's escape, if it was a burglar.
"I called [the neighbor] on the cell phone and she told me that no, no one was supposed to be there. I had enough time to snap a picture of the car before the guy saw me, squeezed by my car and took off," Swanson-deCarteret said.
She got a good look at the burglar and sent the photo of the vehicle to the sheriff's department for analysis.
Jeff Hendrickx' concern is that someone will break into one of the three adult-family homes he and his wife own in the neighborhood and frighten its occupants.
"Two of my caregivers have been broken into at night," Hendrickx said. "Three months ago I heard a neighbor's alarm go off, so I went out to see what was happening. Someone had pried the door open but they ran away when the alarm went off.
"... I've never had a gun in my house," Hendrickx added, "but I have a concealed weapons permit, and now I take my wife to the gun range."
Dennis Swanson, Toni's father, said he suspects numerous burglars have infested the neighborhood, based on their different methods of operation and the varying times of day at which they ply their dubious trade. Auhorities have said that given the many meth houses in the rural area, the drug is likely, in some way, behind the outbreak.
Residents have become more expert than they would prefer at dialing 911. The King County Sheriffs Department responds, they say, sometimes quickly, sometimes not so quickly. But they're willing to cut deputies some slack because they have an enormous territory to cover. Until 10 a.m. in fact, one lone deputy is responsible for providing police coverage to an area extending from Greenwater to Pierce County, from Federal Way to Kent-Kangley Road.
It's a staffing-and-money issue that dates to the previous King County Sheriff, Swanson-deCarteret said, and therefore it is subject to review and change.
"What we want is more police presence with police cars," Hendrickx said.