MARTINSBURG — Several burglaries and thefts in the Bladensburg/Martinsburg area have left many area residents feeling on edge. Knox County Sheriff David Barber said although the crimes may be connected, the burglaries are not the work of an organized team of criminals.
“These are not organized burglary rings by any means, but they may be the same people involved,” he said.
“We are confident that the shooting incident on Divan Road is in no way related to thefts and break-ins in the Martinsburg/Bladensburg area,” he added. “Our priority, in addition to finding the persons responsible for the shooting incident last Sunday night on Divan Road, is to bring some calm to the neighborhood by assuring residents that there are not home invasions taking place in their neighborhood.”
Several incidents of theft or burglary have been investigated by the sheriff’s office since September. According to Barber, the burglaries have occurred primarily during daylight hours when residents are not home, with thieves taking guns, electronics, cash, jewelry, medication, collectibles and other valuables.
Storage buildings and sheds have also been targets for theft, according to Barber.
“It is not uncommon for garages and yard barns with quadrunners or tools, weedeaters, chainsaws and building materials to be taken,” he said.
Barber said he believes the increase in the number of burglaries can be blamed in part on two factors.
“It’s a combination of the [poor] economy and substance abuse,” he said. “People are looking for money they can use for drugs.”
Area resident Marc Wood was a victim of theft twice in October, when thieves broke into his storage building and took firearms and tools.
“We don’t know all of what we lost, but I do have a partial list,” Wood said. “You feel violated; your safety issue feels violated. I was born and raised in Columbus; you expect that kind of thing in Columbus, but not out here.”
Charles W. Klick, whose home was burglarized in the same area and during the same week as Wood’s, said he has lived in the area 22 years, but also did not expect crime of this sort in his rural neighborhood.
“They did it while I was sitting here eating dinner,” Klick said of the thieves who took tools from an open-sided machinery shed on his property. “Your privacy is invaded and you feel like you can’t trust anybody.”
Both men said they now lock their doors and take extra security measures they never would have thought necessary in the past.
Bladensburg resident Diana Noble reported the burglary of her home to the sheriff’s office in September.
“I had quite a few things taken,” she said.
So far, none of her belongings, or those belonging to other victims, have been recovered. Noble said she does have records of the serial number of her laptop computer and other items taken from her home.
Wood wishes he had made such a record.
“Without serial numbers, recovery of it will be very difficult,” he said.
Barber cautioned other residents to keep a detailed list of serial numbers to make recovery easier should their property ever be stolen.
“It definitely helps people recover their belongings faster,” Barber said, “and it helps in the prosecutorial process because we can’t prosecute without a victim, and without proving who the owner of the property is, we don’t have a victim.”
Barber recommended taking digital photographs of jewelry, antiques and other items that don’t come with serial numbers. If belongings are engrave to prove ownership, however, residents should never use their Social Security number because of the risk of identity theft. Instead, he recommends engraving a code word, such as the name of a family pett.
All of the burglary victims interviewed said they have cooperated with the sheriff’s office investigation, and hope the perpetrators will be caught soon.
Barber said the help of the community could speed that process and help his detectives apprehend the thieves.
“People need to raise the awareness of their surroundings and pay attention to vehicles and people in their neighborhood,” he said.
“Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to report suspicious behavior to law enforcement,” he added. “We encourage people not to be embarrassed or hesitant to report what they consider to be unusual behavior. We can patrol the same roads eight hours a day, but it takes us a long time to figure out what belongs on their road and what doesn’t compared to people that live there and see it every day.”
Barber said if residents speak up about anything suspicious they see on a neighbor’s property, the suspects will be caught more quickly.
“We encourage neighbors to look out for one another,” he said.