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Reliving the crime

December 8, 2018

GREENWICH — Everything seemed normal when Lory Kelsey returned to her Greenwich home after a weekend visit with an out-of-town friend in early November.

But something was odd — a light was on in the bathroom, then she found another light on. A few other oddities slowly confirmed her worst suspicions: Her home had been the target of a burglar or burglars.

When she entered her bedroom, the full scope of the break-in became clear.

“I knew something horrible had happened,” said Kelsey, a longtime resident of central Greenwich. “I walked into my bedroom, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything was thrown on the floor.”

It appeared that the whole house had been searched and ransacked, probably by more than one intruder. “They must have been in there for ages. There were lights on in the basement, in closets,” she recalled. “I literally couldn’t think straight. But I called the police right away.”

Burglaries are categorized as property crimes, and they gain less attention than violent crimes among policy-makers and the media. But there is a victim in every residential break-in. As the recent intrusion at the Greenwich home demonstrates, a burglary can inflict harm beyond the damage to a door or window and the loss of personal belongings.

“It hurts you,” Kelsey said.

Studies on the impact of burglaries, including a 2014 analysis in “Traumatology: An International Journal,” found that about half of all people whose residences have been targeted by burglars struggle with negative psychological effects for months — or longer — after the crime. Other studies showed higher rates of psychological trauma. The adverse effects include sleeplessness, anxiety and an uncontrollable impulse to think about the crime and its aftermath.

Kelsey, who has a background in social work and now runs a business as a match-maker setting up couples, says she knows all about those symptoms.

She couldn’t even walk into her bedroom for a few days after the burglary. She eventually had to compile an inventory for police and her insurance company, and besides being time-consuming, it imposed a heavy emotional and mental burden.

“It’s not so much the number of things, but the fact they went through everything. Even baseball hats —that’s upsetting,” she said. And why did the intruders take some of her designer scarves — and leave others behind? It’s a question that has been driving her to distraction.

Then there’s the middle-of-the-night moments.

“For many nights, I was waking up in the middle of the night, remembering an item that the burglars may have wanted to take, and getting up and checking if it was still there,” Kelsey said.

There is still a lingering sense of vulnerability — as well as more security in the residence.

“Now, I leave all the lights on in the house when I leave,” she said. She also has periods of feeling disoriented inside her home, uncertain whether some of her belongings were taken by the intruders or not.

On a positive note, Kelsey found her neighbors were kind and supportive after the burglary, and one of them could commiserate after having also been the victim of a recent burglary. She appreciated the thoughtfulness of an officer who made sure she could fix a cup of tea after police arrived, helping to calm her nerves.

But the chilling moments stand out. After calling 911, Kelsey was told by the emergency dispatcher to wait outside her home until police arrived — “the perpetrator might still be there,” she was told. That’s a line she won’t forget.

On the law-enforcement side, Greenwich police say they have a well-resourced burglary unit and employ a full range of techniques to catch and deter property criminals.

“Every burglary is investigated. We conduct both at-scene and various follow-up investigations which helps us identify the suspect(s), and recover stolen property,” Greenwich Police Lt. John Slusarz wrote in an email.

Greenwich police close out burglary cases 28.1 percent of the time with arrests, compared to the national average of 13.5 percent, Slusarz said. About 50 to 70 burglaries are reported in the community every year, according to statistics provided to a federal database. Some are relatively minor, such as items taken from a garage, while others involve major thefts.

Officers are well aware of the hardships burglary victims can endure after their houses have been broken into, he said. “Being a victim of a burglary, it’s one of the most personal crimes there is,” Slusarz said.

Nationally, nearly 1 million residential burglaries were reported in 2016, according to FBI statistics, in the most recent reporting period.

The state of Connecticut offers services to victims of crime, with most aid devoted to victims of violent and sexual assault crimes, as well as those impacted by murder. Linda Cimino, director of the Office of Victims Services, said people who have suffered from a burglary can call 211, a hotline run in conjunction with the United Way, which connects people with counseling and other services.

Anyone who has been victimized by burglary shouldn’t be wary of seeking help, Cimino said. “It’s very much of a violation,” she said. “The impact can be as deep and comprehensive as someone who’s been physically assaulted.”

Kelsey assumes that normalcy will eventually resume, that the anxiety will pass as time goes on. As someone who works professionally in mental health and personal relations, she thinks she’s in a good position to work through the trouble that came to her comfortable home, with the aid of a burglar’s tool.

But in the meantime, she said, “It’s like a bad dream.”