ATLANTIC CITY - Thirteen-year-old Charles Carson was looking forward to starting eighth grade at Oceanside Charter School on Monday with a bunch of new stuff: shoes, clothes, a backpack and a computer.
But the day before school began, Carson and his grandmother Patricia Hall found their duplex ransacked when they returned from spending the weekend in Pleasantville, where they had evacuated to during Hurricane Irene.
"I think they took my orientation packet, too," Carson said as he searched his bedroom.
Hall, 59, was still cleaning up the mess Monday afternoon, discovering still more things taken during the break-in - worth an estimated $5,000 - and writing it all down for Atlantic City police. Hall said she was happy with the response from officers Sunday, their visit still evident from the traces of black fingerprinting dust on walls, tables, the handle to their refrigerator - anywhere the burglar might have "gotten lazy."
The burglary bothered 2nd Ward Councilman Marty Small, particularly in light of how much persuasion was involved in getting some residents to leave the city, he said.
"Even though the storm wasn't as severe as people expected it to be, it brought the community together," he said. "But some people stayed behind for the wrong reasons."
There were 11 arrests in Atlantic City between Friday and Monday, mostly on contempt warrants, said Sgt. Monica McMenamin, noting the city fared well not just with the hurricane but also with public safety. More arrests may be pending as people arrive home and realize they have been burglarized.
At least a dozen others have approached Councilman Mo Delgado directly for help with dealing with break-ins that happened during the storm.
"In the Marina District, in the 6th Ward off Trenton Avenue - there seem to be a cluster of homes and multifamily buildings that have been broken into," said Delgado, a social services coordinator. "There's been quite a lot of break-ins."
What appear to be crimes of opportunity were not limited to the resort, but also happened in Galloway and Egg Harbor townships as well as Somers Point, police reports said.
Two men in Atlantic City were caught walking down the street with a large television Saturday night, police Sgt. McMenamin said.
Police said the owner of the TV reported the crime Monday. Richard Oliver, 18, of Atlantic City, was charged with receiving stolen property. Peter Guzman, also 18 and from the city, was charged with possession of 39 bags of marijuana.
Overall, very few burglaries and other crimes have been reported by people as they return, Atlantic City Office of Emergency Management Director Tom Foley said Monday.
"It's so noticeable because there was no one on the street, and when you see someone carrying a TV - that's obvious," he said.
Foley was referring to the man police arrested after he was spotted carrying electronics on empty city streets early Sunday morning. Kenneth L. Coursey later admitted the stuff belonged to people he knew had evacuated, police reports state.
Police charged Coursey, 50, of Atlantic City, with burglary and theft. He remains jailed on $75,000 bail, police said.
Something similar happened in Egg Harbor Township.
Off-duty Ocean City police Officer Sean O'Donoghue called township police when he saw a couple of men rifling through mailboxes in an evacuated area near Somers Point-Mays Landing and Steelmanville roads.
Police found mail scattered throughout the neighborhood and one of the men carrying items Sgt. Robert Gray would describe only as "items that came from the mail." Police charged Robert Payne, 25, of Somers Point, with two counts of mail theft, possession of stolen property and possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana. Payne remains jailed on $5,000 cash bail, police said.
An 80-year-old man was forced inside his Galloway home Saturday by people who then restrained him while they robbed his house. Some township officials believe the suspects were among the 400 people taken by the Atlantic City Rescue Mission to a storm shelter at Bethel Christian School on North Genoa Avenue, but that investigation has not concluded.
A Somers Point man was arrested Sunday and charged with burglarizing a home at the height of the hurricane. Police got a report that a home on Harbor Lane - whose residents had evacuated - had been broken into at about
2:15 a.m. Sunday, Capt. Mike Boyd said. Police found the windows smashed and property removed, Boyd said, and were given a description of three men in a white sport utility vehicle.
An SUV fitting that description was spotted later that day outside The Gates apartment complex on Shore Road with several TVs and an XBox inside, Boyd said. K-9 dogs led police to the apartment of Terrance Cooper, 39, who was arrested and charged with burglary and theft. Police are still looking for the other two suspects.
As Atlantic City police continued investigating the break-in at Hall's Back Maryland townhouse, her list of stolen goods continued to grow.
So far, she has noted two
X-Box 360 game systems, Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, an iPod, a PSP, jewelry and a safe with still more jewelry and essential documents including savings bonds and Social Security cards. Hall also found food missing from the refrigerator, batteries picked out of a remote control, and cracks in her TV and frames protecting photos and award certificates.
Hall said she could not imagine who would target her house for a violation that seems particularly personal to her because she has lived in the Back Maryland duplex for more than four decades.
"I've never had a break-in, nothing," said Hall, who keeps a stick in her sliding back door to prevent it from opening more than a few inches from the outside. "I've lived in this neighborhood all my life. I wouldn't expect someone to come in here and rummage through my stuff. Can't put a price on that emotional scar."
Staff Writers Lynda Cohen, Steven Lemongello and Sarah Watson contributed to this report.
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