Break-ins create an uneasy feeling

A rash of burglaries have set rural Enumclaw residents on edge.

A handful remain active in the files of the King County Sheriff’s Office as stories of suspicious vehicles circulate among neighbors, most of whom live on small parcels of land ranging north of the city limits.

The recent string of events – in which burglars appear to watch and wait for the opportunity to smash their way into an empty home – dates back to at least the first of the year.

A Jan. 8 victim relates that she was at work in Enumclaw and her husband joined her for lunch. He returned home an hour or so later to find garage windows smashed. Burglars had broken into the garage and then into the house, where they made off with an estimated $15,000 worth of jewelry and weapons.

The story turned more ominous the following week. A shooting in the Seattle suburb of Skyway “involved one of our pistols,” the Enumclaw victim said. When police searched the Skyway home, they found guns and jewelry that had been taken in the Enumclaw robbery.

The teenagers involved in the shooting, brothers ages 14 and 17, are known to be members of a Hispanic gang that operates all along the West Coast, police told the victim.

Fingerprints were taken from the Enumclaw crime scene twice, but nothing has been resolved. The burglary victim has been told budget cuts are making detectives’ jobs much more difficult and she’s not sure if, or when, the stolen merchandise will be returned.

Nearly four months later, the suspects have not been charged.

John Urquhart, public information officer with the King County Sheriff’s Department, agrees that forced-entry burglaries have increased in the area.

He cites statistics from the Enumclaw district, which is bordered by the King-Pierce county line on the south and Green Valley Road on the north.

During April of this year, where were six burglaries in the district involving forced entry, compared with one in April 2009. Combining figures for March and April, there were nine incidents this year and four the year prior.

While it appears those responsible – and Urquhart said there’s no reason to assume the same people are committing the crimes – are looking for empty homes, the potential for danger certainly exists.

In March, a woman living northwest of Enumclaw said goodbye to her husband, who then drove away, and headed to bed for an afternoon nap. Her car was in the garage, giving the appearance of an empty home.

In bid and with a sleep mask over her eyes, she heard a loud noise but didn’t give it much thought. It turned out the racket was the sound of two men kicking in her French doors. She awoke from her nap and saw an intruder rummaging through her belongings, apparently oblivious to the sleeping resident. When she let out a scream, the would-be burglar ran from the home, along with his accomplice, netting nothing from the botched burglary attempt.

Kicking in the doors activated an audible alarm, but the burglars ignored the sound. Rural residents and burglars are aware of one simple fact: with limited resources and miles or turf to cover, police are bound to be more than a few minutes away.

The cumulative effect of the burglaries has residents on guard, watching for each other, according to Paul Gwerder, a rural resident who has heard unsettling stories from more than one neighbor.

“They’re all in the middle of the day and that’s what is frustrating about it,” Gwerder said, noting that he keeps a close eye on all slow-moving vehicles passing his home. “I’ts just very unnerving to know you’re being watched.”

He tells the story of a female neighbor who watched a car pull slowly into her driveway. When she stepped outside, the driver quickly turned and departed. That’s the kind of suspicious behavior that has rural residents convinced they’re being watched.

When he sees unfamiliar vehicles pull into neighboring properties, Gwerder calls the residents to see if they’re at home – something he wouldn’t have thought to do a year ago.

“It’s not a fun way to live, having to be on guard all the time,” Gwerder said. “It’s too bad you have to be suspicious of every strange vehicle that drives by.”

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