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Rising burglaries in Moorestown have residents on edge

Robert O'Donnell could barely sleep. Along his Moorestown street Saturday evening, at a neighboring home, someone had shattered the glass of two sliding doors, run to the upstairs bedroom, and snatched a necklace - all with the intruder alarm blaring.

Robert O'Donnell could barely sleep.

Along his Moorestown street Saturday evening, at a neighboring home, someone had shattered the glass of two sliding doors, run to the upstairs bedroom, and snatched a necklace - all with the intruder alarm blaring.

So O'Donnell, 21, left the kitchen light on and had a buddy stay at his house the next night. A few hours passed, and the basketball hoops and backyard sat unused. The street fell silent.

Then, about 4 a.m., O'Donnell heard something.

His window screen, rattling.

He stepped out of bed and checked the sound, as if playing a role in a horror movie.

A burglar? Someone trying to get in? O'Donnell considered the possibilities.

Just as quickly, though, he discovered something else: It was the wind.

Relieved, he checked other rooms in the house and let his cat, Molly, outside. On the street, a police cruiser keeping an eye on things rolled by.

"It's pretty scary," O'Donnell said Monday of the burglary, one of at least a dozen since June in Moorestown that authorities think may be connected.

"We're just keeping all the doors locked and hoping nothing else happens."

For O'Donnell and residents whose homes were broken into, the burglaries have created a feeling of vulnerability, a disturbing realization that someone crossed into their sanctuaries and stole a piece of their lives: A wedding anniversary gift. A video recording of children opening Christmas presents. Quarters from a jar.

The break-ins, three of which were reported last weekend, have a similar script: Someone smashes or pries open a door or window, and then scavenges the bedroom for jewelry. It's often in the early evening, and no one is home.

The individual or individuals behind the Moorestown break-ins may also be responsible for four home burglaries this month in neighboring Mount Laurel, where detectives have been working with Moorestown investigators.

"Unfortunately, it's a widespread problem" in Burlington County, Moorestown Police Lt. Lee Lieber said.

Officials in Moorestown are considering holding a town-hall meeting - the date not yet decided - to discuss the problem, as police beef up patrols and compare notes with state authorities.

So far this year, 39 homes have been burglarized in Moorestown. All of last year, there were 29. In neighboring Camden County, in Cherry Hill, which has three times the population of Moorestown, the trend is in reverse: About 150 homes have been burglarized this year. Last year, the total was 206.

Behind the numbers is fear. A 6-year-old girl was afraid to sleep alone Sunday in Moorestown after burglars tore apart her mother's bedroom some time while the family was gone overnight. Now the girl keeps asking: Are they coming back?

No, her mother tells her, even as she battles her own anxiety - the lingering feeling that when she walks through the door at night, someone will already be inside.

"It is truly shocking when you realize someone has been in your home, and it just makes you incredibly vulnerable," the 47-year-old mother of three said. She and other victims asked that their names not be used for fear of being targeted again. "I have to tell my children that they'll be safe because this is their childhood. You only have one childhood."

The family's quaint one-story home sits across the street from an elementary school and playground. Foot traffic is heavy.

So when the mother returned home from the overnight trip and from church Sunday morning and unlocked the front door, she suspected nothing unusual.

Then she walked into the bedroom.

Papers were strewed across the floor and bed, as if blown about by a strong gust. The window curtain was pulled from the wall, lying on the ground outside. Next to the curtain was a chair.

In the bedroom closet, bins were pulled out and jewelry boxes were rummaged through.

The biggest loss, though, was a tiny Samsung video camera. It contained recordings of birthday parties and last year's Christmas, when the mother's 11-year-old son was screaming for joy - "jumping out of his skin" - upon opening a present with a Michael Carter-Williams jersey inside.

"These scumbags stole my video camera that had about three years of video of my children," the mother said. "That's the hardest thing, because I can't get that back."

Less than two miles away, on the day prior, another Moorestown family received a call. It was ADT Security Systems, telling them their alarm was wailing.

The family rushed from church to home, where two visible ADT security signs stand on either side of the steps by the front door.

The alarm had scared off the burglar, but not fast enough, the family learned. The silver necklace the wife received for her wedding anniversary was gone.

"My wife is scared," the husband said Monday on the front porch, as his wife carefully watched the couple's 7- and 12-year-old sons on the other side of the door.

On the street of well-kept houses, this one bore a scar: Where sliding doors once stood, there were wooden boards.

Anyone with information on the break-ins should call Moorestown police at 856-235-1405.