As a young Red Deer mother and her two children slept, an unknown number of thieves crept into her home sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning.
The culprits were so brazen after entering through the garage and going into the main floor living room, they actually opened wrapped Christmas presents under the tree, took the ones they wanted and left behind the ones they didn’t want.
And when they left, they stole the mother’s 2103 grey Toyota Corolla, complete with a child’s car seat in it. The thieves would have been quite stupid not to know there was a child in the house but it didn’t matter to them, obviously.
The car was a graduation gift that the woman’s parents had given her when she competed nursing school two years ago.
The thieves also took other items including an iPad and things from the garage. And keys too.
On Wednesday, Red Deer RCMP put out a short press release to the media that included photos of a woman suspect using a stolen debit card following the break-in.
The victim told me the details of the break-in that weren’t in the press release.
Brigitta (I am not using her last name for obvious reasons) was awakened at 7 a.m. Saturday morning by her cell phone buzzing. She and her children had all been in bed sleeping upstairs.
The recently single mother of two children — a 12-year-old and one-year-old — said at first she was still half asleep.
Each time her debit card is used she gets a text message, alerting her to the transaction and how much is being spent.
She had three text messages in rapid succession, and she’s thinking: “What the heck is going on? Who is using my card? I thought maybe I had lost it or something. I couldn’t figure it out.”
She immediately called the number on the card to let them know she didn’t recognize the purchases. They asked for her bank card number. “So I groggily get out of bed and grab my daughter, she’s just a year … go downstairs to get my bank card, and notice a few things off right away in my house that didn’t seem quite right.”
She can’t find her purse so she goes to the garage as she thought maybe she left her purse in her car.
“And I opened the garage door, and the overhead door is open and my car is gone.”
Brigitta, 32, called police. And then the shock starts to set in, that horrible feeling that strangers have been in her home, robbing her as she and her kids slept.
She tries to describe how she felt. “Honestly it just … sorry …” She can’t talk for a minute.
“I was so shaken up and you know, I was terrified. It’s just such an invasion of your privacy and your life. My (children) are okay … but you never know, right.” She is trying to hold herself together but she is sobbing.
Police told her they believe that the person or persons who entered her home drive around randomly with a universal remote for garage doors. Eventually they find a garage overhead door that opens. Apparently this is a common practice of these people.
To add insult to injury, Brigitta had called her alarm company for repairs two days earlier because the sensor on her garage door had broken. They had not repaired it yet when the break-in occurred.
She has been busy cancelling cards, getting new identification, trying to find receipts for gift cards that were in her purse.
Her debit card was the kind that you tap to make payment without using a PIN. She has since disabled that feature.
Video footage was captured at the Petro Canada station in Gasoline Alley of her car and a woman suspect. The suspect was able to use the debit card and make three purchases in a row in the gas station, each under $100.
A later attempt by someone using her credit card for an online purchase failed because Brigitta had already cancelled it.
“2015 has been a horrible year for me,” she said, but she does not want to appeal for any help from any of the current Christmas charity drives underway. Much of what she lost is covered to some degree by insurance.
“I’m not really comfortable because I work with a vulnerable population and I see much worse. And I don’t ever think of myself as having to use those resources,” she’s telling me, trying incredibly hard to keep her composure.
“There’s people worse off than me and I don’t want to take advantage of these programs when there’s people that need it more than me.
“I do have a house. I do have a family. I do have a job.”
Still the trauma is there. The vulnerability Brigitta feels is there. Her oldest child has been terrified since the incident, afraid to sleep alone, turns all the lights on in the house now, afraid to even go out and deliver papers.
But through it all, there’s a sign the young mother is going to get through it. She starts to laugh because even though she has a rented vehicle now, her driving glasses were in her Toyota.
“It was just funny. We went down to the rental car and I’m ready to jump in and I look over at my dad, and I’m like I can’t even drive because I can’t see where I’m going. And I don’t have an extra set.”
She’s ordered a new pair of glasses. They’re coming soon.
Despite her being fully prepared to get through the losses, a family friend who wants to help, Darlene Ketchum, contacted me. She’s arranged for a donation box for Brigitte and her children, at the Save On Foods store on 22nd Street. The store wants to help too. Ketchum can be reached at 403-872-8646.
Meanwhile, police have released photos of the woman suspect seen at Petro-Canada in Gasoline Alley. The woman was a passenger in the stolen Toyota and entered the gas station while an unknown driver waited in the car.
The woman suspect is described as Caucasian, slim build, long brown hair with blond ends, ponytail, wearing a white shirt underneath a dark slim-fitting hoodie, a long chain necklace and blue jeans.
If you can help identify her, please call Red Deer RCMP at 403-343-5575. You can remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or report any information online at www.tipsubmit.com.