Police make arrest in response to high number of thefts
The spring semester at Carnegie Mellon has already been marked by a string of burglaries; in the past two weeks alone, four thefts have occurred. Money and laptops were stolen from Webster Hall, Resnik House, Fairfax Apartments, and the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority house.
According to the university’s crime alert email on these robberies sent out on Jan. 17, “CMU Police are working with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police regarding a burglary suspect recently arrested in our area to ascertain if there is any connection to the incidents.”
Gary Scheimer, lieutenant of the University Police, said, “We made an arrest [Jan. 23rd] for the burglary on Webster. We don’t believe that the same man is involved in the other three; he was linked to a series of burglaries that occurred here and at Duquesne University and in the city of Pittsburgh.” Scheimer said that the suspect was out on parole when he committed the thefts and is now facing charges from Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, and the city of Pittsburgh.
Joseph Meyers, lieutenant of the University Police, confirmed that the suspect who is not affiliated with Carnegie Mellon confessed to not only the robbery at Webster Hall, but also to a string of thefts that span Duquesne University and the areas around Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh.
“Right now he has a total of four cases, and I’m anticipating that Zone 5 detectives are going to arrest him on at least one other count, so he’s essentially a kind of serial burglar,” Meyers said.
Regarding the burglar at the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority house, Scheimer said, “We have descriptions of [him], and we’re trying to identify him and we’re working toward seeing if he’s linked with all three of the other ones.”
While the other burglaries, according to Scheimer, were committed by a thief who came in through an unlocked door, at the sorority house the suspect “confronted a student and more or less intimidated her through the guise of the fact that he had a meeting with an alum; he made her feel very ill at ease and she then admitted him into the building.” At that point, the thief found an unlocked door and stole cash from a drawer.
At Resnik, Scheimer said, the victim’s suite door was left unlocked and, although it was in the afternoon and someone was sleeping in one of the adjacent bedrooms, the thief left with a laptop and some cash.
At Webster Hall and the Fairfax Apartments, the thief also entered through a door that a resident had left open.
“This guy at Webster, we have him on video, he’s just going through trying doors, trying to find one that was open. And I sense that the same thing happened at Resnik and Fairfax,” Meyers said.
These recent thefts occur in the wake of last semester’s burglaries, in which thieves stole laptops from Hunt Library and several other academic buildings on campus.
Scheimer admitted that Carnegie Mellon’s open campus provided an easy target for thieves: “On an open campus, they’re able to just come through buildings, walk through and see the laptops — they’re unattended, and it just takes a matter of seconds.”
Priscilla Kim, a first-year psychology major, was a victim of one such theft in November, when her laptop was stolen from Hunt Library.
She was studying on the second floor of Hunt Library and left her backpack and laptop unattended to meet a friend on the first floor.
Kim said, “I was originally planning to come back within 10 minutes, but then when I came back it was about 40 minutes after I left and my laptop was gone.”
Kim immediately called University Police and used a friend’s computer to log onto iCloud, a service provided by Apple.
This allowed her to lock her Macbook with a password, display a message on the screen urging whomever found it to return it to Hunt Library, and find the location of the laptop if it was turned on in an area with Wi-Fi.
A week later, Kim reported, she got an email notifying her that iCloud had found the location of her laptop.
She called the University Police again and gave them the address so that they could pursue the matter.
On the first day of the spring semester, the police returned Kim’s laptop to her.
The police found it after the owner of an electronic shop bought it from the thief and realized that it was stolen.
Kim said, “The person who turned it in was someone who sells and buys used computers and tech devices. He said he bought it from an anonymous woman. Some woman had just given it to him for $100.”
On Dec. 12, 2012, the university released a crime alert via email that stated, “An unusually high number of thefts have recently occurred on campus. These thefts have involved unattended personal laptops and electronic devices in numerous buildings, but have mainly targeted Hunt Library and the University Center.”
The alert urged students to not leave laptops or other valuable goods unattended and to “report any suspicious persons or circumstances immediately to university police.” The thefts also prompted the university to post signs in the library and around campus with a similar message. Regarding the laptop thefts, Scheimer said that last semester similar thefts had been occurring at the University of Pittsburgh, where the thief was identified and interviewed.
“He [the suspect] knew that they were onto him, so he moved on to the next campus,” he said. “They provided us with his name and information; we had undercover people in the library that had his picture and saw him acting suspiciously.”
Even though the police interviewed the suspect, they do not have enough information yet to make an arrest. They hope to acquire conclusive evidence by following the tracks of the stolen laptops.
Although the suspect is not confirmed as the thief, Scheimer noted that after he was taken in, the laptop thefts immediately stopped.
A crime report email sent to students on Jan. 17 included several safety tips to help students avoid becoming victims, such as to “lock your doors and ground level windows, do not allow ‘piggybacking’ into secure areas by allowing individuals to closely follow you through the security door into the facility,” and “do not allow strangers access to your building, residence, or secured area.”
Scheimer talked about the importance of keeping card-access buildings secure. “It’s common courtesy for us; we’ve been taught since we were young to hold the door for somebody. But if a building has card access, it’s not rude to say ‘I have to close the door; I don’t know you; you have to let yourself in.’ It’s a very hard culture to break.”
As the trend of thefts continues, the police caution against leaving personal belongings unattended. Meyers echoed the sentiments of the email. “The biggest crime-prevention tip I can give is for people to use common sense — lock their doors and be aware of their surroundings. Those are two of the biggest things you can do to keep yourself from being a victim. When you leave the door open, you’re basically making yourself a victim.”