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UPDATE While they slept: Police investigating string of burglaries in DL that happened when residents were home

Homes near the intersection of Central Street and Minnesota Avenue were hit particularly hard during the Oct. 1 string of burglaries. Kaysey Price / Tribune1 / 2
A surveillance sign warns security cameras are in use at a home located within the vicinity where the Oct. 1 burglaries occurred. Kaysey Price / Tribune2 / 2

A string of burglaries that occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 1 (most likely between 4 and 5 a.m.) have Detroit Lakes citizens on high alert. The most alarming part is that the homes were occupied when they were broken into.

"It's very unusual to have occupied-home burglaries," said Police Chief Steve Todd. "It's very alarming to me."

Due to the unusual nature of the incidents, Todd put out a press release to warn citizens and let them know they need to be locking their doors and windows at night.

"In each of these cases, the suspect(s) entered the residences through an unlocked door or window," reads the press release.

For Bob Earley, one of the burglary victims, the thieves didn't enter his home so much as they pried off a screen and reached in, lifting a pack of smokes and a money clip with $31 in it right off his kitchen counter.

Earley says he just had back surgery, so he gets up at 4 a.m. to take medication and, when he woke up Sunday morning, he noticed the window's curtain was blown out and his money clip was gone.

When he looked outside for clues, he noticed his pack of cigarettes had been dropped on his deck, so he went out and picked them up, but then when he got back in his house and locked his door behind him, he heard someone back on his deck. (Earley has a few plastic chairs on his deck that make a familiar scraping noise when moved).

"I heard the chairs moving," he said, adding that when he heard the steps get closer to his window, he flipped the curtain open, but all he could see was the culprit running off.

"He was gone like a rabbit," said Earley. "I didn't see anything. Just had bulky pants on."

Another victim, Steve Ferencik, wasn't as lucky as Earley.

Ferencik woke up Sunday morning to have a cigarette and slowly came to the realization that someone had been in his house...while he was asleep in his bed.

"I wake up to have a cigarette—they're gone," said Ferencik, recalling when he came to the realization that someone had broken into his house. "I look; my wallet's gone."

Ferencik says then he went back into his bedroom and noticed one of his guns had also been stolen from a rack hanging over his bed - the very bed he'd been sleeping in.

"Scary...especially when you're that close," he said. "When they reach over your head and grab something when you're sleeping—and I thought I was a light sleeper all my life. I musta been so out of it from working."

After asking around the neighborhood, Ferencik says a number of his neighbors along Central Street also noticed signs of attempted breakins, screens pried off of homes. Though, the thief (or thieves) were not able to get in.

The fear is pretty thick. Ferencik says he feels so violated that he'd like to pack up and move right out of town but, for now, he's locking everything up tight.

"I lock my doors now. I loaded the gun. I'm not gonna take chances," he said.

He says the responding officers also warned him about protecting the rest of his firearms, saying there's a good chance the burglars will return for them, so Ferencik plans to take them to a trusted friend or family member's house—and he's also reinforcing in other ways.

"I am gonna put up a motion light in the backyard," he said. "It's real dark back there. You got all the time in the world to do anything you want."

Ferencik says this isn't the first time he's had trouble living in that neighborhood, the quadrant surrounded by Highway 10 on the south, Washington Avenue on the east, Highway 34 on the north, and Highway 59 on the west. He says his car was broken into about four years ago, and his wallet was taken then, too.

But the culprit burglarizing homes Sunday morning seems to have also been riffling through unlocked vehicles. One woman who lives in that area says she woke up Sunday morning to go to church and noticed both of her vans had been gone through, though she didn't report it to the police because nothing was taken.

There's been a number of unlocked cars rifled through and stolen from over the summer. The culprits, if indeed it's the same individual(s) doing all of the rifling, seem to hit a block or parking lot one week and then move onto another the next week, circling the town, looking for easy victims.

Chief Todd says there is no evidence that links this string of burglaries to the car break ins, but that doesn't mean they aren't linked—and it's impossible for them to know, if incidents aren't reported.

At this point, all they can do is tell people to lock up their homes, garages, cars and keep areas well-lit. They aren't releasing suspect information, but they are asking the public for help.

"We solve these sorts of crimes with help from the public," he said, adding if you see something say something.

Citizens are encouraged to contact the Detroit Lakes Police Department at 847-4222 with any information regarding the recent burglaries and, if they notice any suspicious activity, they can call dispatch at 911 or 847-2661.