The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Burglars target off-campus housing

Sarah Mervosh | Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Senior Ellyn Michalak sat in her living room reading a book when she heard loud noises coming from the kitchen. She expected to see her roommate doing laundry, but instead discovered a large man jumping off the kitchen counter who had broken through the window.

“I started crying and screaming, and I said, ‘Get out of my house!’ I was drinking a cup of water and I threw it at him,” she said. “It was absolutely the most terrifying experience of my life.”

Michalak and other off-campus students have been victims of burglary or attempted burglary since the beginning of the school year, but the numbers are not unusually high, South Bend Police Captain Phil Trent said.

“The burglary numbers are fairly consistent with previous years,” he said. “We have not seen a wild spike in burglaries.”

Over the past two weeks, there have been four break-ins in the vicinity of South Bend where 85 percent of Notre Dame off-campus students live, he said.

Trent did not know how many burglaries have affected students since the beginning of the school year, because police do not distinguish between students and permanent residents.

Students may be at a higher risk, because burglars usually want to steal electronics, like laptops, iPods and televisions, Trent said. He also said the majority of burglaries happen during the day when students are at class.

Michalak said the burglar who broke into her house on Notre Dame Ave. during the day expected no one to be home.

“The guy obviously didn’t want me to be there when he walked in the house. He looked just as panicked as I did,” she said.

Although the man fled the house through the front door after he saw Michalak, she said her biggest fear was that the man would hurt her.

“It was terrifying … He was like twice the size of me,” she said. “The first thing that’s going through your mind is, what happens if this guy attacks me?”

Michalak said the police brought six squad cars along with sniffing dogs to investigate the attempted robbery. They also took fingerprints from the window and showed mug shots to Michalak to help identify the burglar, she said.

Since the break-in occurred, the police told Michalak they found the man and arrested him.

“They just said that he’s actually going to jail for two robberies. Ours wasn’t the only house that he had broken into and entered,” she said.

Nothing was stolen from Michalak’s house, but junior Matt Coyne wasn’t so lucky.

Coyne spent the summer in South Bend doing research, and in early July, his house was broken into in the middle of the night, he said.

“I woke up on Sunday at 11 a.m. after going to bed at 4:30 a.m.,” Coyne said. “Our TV was gone and that’s the only thing I noticed at the time. And I noticed the kitchen window was wide open.”

Coyne said he later discovered his roommate’s laptop and an Xbox 360 had been stolen. He estimated the value of the stolen items at $4,000.

Coyne said he and his roommates had just moved into the house a few weeks earlier, and had not set up a security system.

“We just kept putting off getting our security system installed,” Coyne said. “That’s on us. We thought [burglary] was a possibility, but never thought it would actually happen.”

Coyne said police did not find out who was responsible for the theft.

“I think all of my roommates would say to not mess around with the security system, to get that installed as soon as you can, and make sure that you’re not careless with locking windows and doors,” Coyne said.

To prevent burglaries, students should keep their windows and curtains closed, Trent said.

“There’s people with their front windows right open and I can see a 50-inch plasma screen from the street. You can see someone with the lights on in their house and they’re working on a laptop computer,” he said. “A burglar can do an assessment of what they can steal just by walking down the street looking in the windows.”

Dominic Zultanski, a South Bend Police officer and operations manager for Gargoyle Preferred Investigative Services who works with Kramer Properties to prevent and respond to burglaries, said students should also be wary of people offering to clean up cups after a party or shovel snow.

“These guys are coming around. They’re knocking on doors. They’re asking to shovel your driveway. All they’re doing is scoping out your home,” he said.

Zultanski said students would have a better chance of recovering a stolen item if they know its serial number.

“Take the time and think about all the things that, if someone walked in right now and just wanted to steal things for money, what would they steal?” he said. “Write down that list. Put down your make, model and serial numbers for all those items.”

Zultanski said Kramer Properties residents can go to the Gargoyle Preferred Investigative Services Facebook group to get updates about area crimes and ask questions.

Machalak said prior to the attempted burglary in her house, there were 17 members in the Facebook group, but the word has spread.

“Since our break-in, there are 120 members now. I think people are starting to take it seriously,” she said.