by Sam Levin
Here at Daily RFT, we chronicle the crime plaguing St. Louis -- from the all-too-regular homicides to the frightening accounts of home invasions to cases of sexual abuse and more. But rarely do we get to hear directly from the victims, those personally impacted by criminal acts in the city.
One 28-year-old victim of multiple home robberies, however, recently shared with us her story -- and an open letter she penned to her unknown suspects about how hurt she is by these experiences.
"For them, it's just taking these things," the St. Louis resident and photographer, who wished to remain anonymous, tells Daily RFT. "I just don't think they realize what this does to a person.
The resident, who lives in between Gravois Park and Benton Park, says that she was coming home with a friend on a Friday night at around 6 p.m. when she noticed a vehicle she didn't recognize outside of her renovated storefront apartment building.
There was a man in the car laying low, who honked when she showed up.
"Then, I see two men carrying my things out of my house, and I started shaking," she says. "My immediate thought was to jump out of my car. It's just so hard to see that and feel like you can't do anything.... These people have my things. I have to figure out who they are."
But she and her friend, out of fear, stayed put -- and the car drove off in such a hurry that they weren't able to catch the license plate.
Then she went inside and assessed the damage.
Continue for more of our interview and for the letter she wrote to her suspects.
"The first thing I saw was gone was my camera," she says. "For me, that was something that was really important.... It's something that I researched and saved for forever."
A laptop, an Xbox, two cameras, a lens, a television and more were all gone.
She felt violated -- and afraid that her belongings weren't safe anymore, she says.
After the incident, "I didn't really leave my house much," she says.
But two weeks later, last month, she went to get lunch and came back to find that burglars had again tried to break into her home and break down her door the same way they had done the first time. They did some damage to the door but didn't get inside this time. Police categorized this as an "attempted burglary," she says.
She has installed an expensive security system, but says she still doesn't feel comfortable -- and is moving out this month to a new place in St. Louis county.
She says that police don't have any suspects in either case -- but she wrote a letter to her burglars anyway, mostly as a way to vent.
"I just wanted to write a note on my door," she says. "After it happened I was just so frustrated."
She sent us the full letter she wrote, which she hopes her suspects will see -- or at the least would discourage others from burglarizing homes.
Here's the letter in full.
To whom it may concern:
While I didn't see you kick my door in, the crack forming sends visuals up my spine.
My friend grasping my arm, screaming, holding me in the car may have saved my life, but watching someone walk out of my home, my space, my comfort zone with my belongings will haunt me forever.
Let me explain who I am. I am your neighbor. I was the one that waved good morning, I was the one that brought your kids out cookies while they were waiting for the bus, I was the one that helped your kids push your car into a spot when it died. I was the one that loaned you the marker and let you keep it. I was one of the few people that believed in you and in the neighborhood. I trusted you. I treated everyone with a warm smile. When no one wanted to come visit because of the area, it still felt like home to me. I don't know who you are, but I want you to know you have hurt me in more ways than just taking my possessions.
You have changed who I am because of this.
The detective told me that you may be able to sell my camera for thirty dollars, an item that I researched and saved for over a year to afford. To you, it was easy money; to me, it was part of my income, it was my passion, it was something I worked hard to obtain. I am not a rich woman; obviously you can tell that by the area I live in. I cannot simply replace these things. It will take longer now that I have no way to operate my business other than renting equipment. You couldn't even leave me my back-up camera to get by. As you pushed my father's photograph out of the way to grab them, did you feel nothing?
Continue for the rest of the letter.
My laptop, the tool that got me through college. Where I learned to edit my first photograph, where I edited my first video, the utensil to practice my craft. Working my way through the pawn shops of St. Louis, owner after owner told me they wouldn't even take this item.What will you do with it, what will you do with all my private files and archive of images?
The 'deal of the day' tv I bought for the boys. The item that comforted them when they couldn't sleep watching Pixar movies. You took the time to push their dresser out, unscrew the cable, and take it as if it was your own. You didn't know or care of the purpose. Maybe you use it now yourself or maybe you sold it for ten dollars, either way, I had to find a way to explain why it was no longer there. Not only that, you ripped the handle right out the nightstand, right next to where they sleep.
The xbox, an item so old, the pawn shops said they wouldn't take it if you brought it in. The boys used this to create boats, houses, towns. They used their imagination to create anything they could dream up. On these cold nights, when you can't go out to play, that was their form of exploration. It meant something to them. It meant something to me hearing about the houses they built on it and what they learned from it.
I hear things like, 'at least you weren't hurt, or at least they left this or that' I am also happy no one was hurt. However, I don't want to live in an 'At least' kind of world. Do you want your children or mother or father to have to say 'At least'? I don't want to live somewhere that it is considered a favor that I wasn't hurt or raped or killed.
Who am I today? I don't trust the neighborhood. I cannot wait to leave. I am in debt paying for the highest security system I could obtain to keep you from breaking into my home again. Everyone I see outside is a suspect. I don't know if you are waiting for your kid to get on the bus, or sitting in your car watching me and waiting for me to leave. I will never look at the world the same. I can't sleep. Every noise I hear sends me running to the window. I don't leave my house after dark. If I leave, I am monitoring each door and window through my phone. If you try to come back, I will be there to tell these things in person. I needed to write this letter for closure, for myself, so if by chance you read it, you will know how this affects a person.
Enjoy my things, but you will never know the true value of them or anything until you have to work hard for them.