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Obituary burglar strikes SK family

A devastating blow.

That’s what South Kitsap resident Gerald Van Amen, 43, calls the break-in that occurred at his Sunnyslope home Saturday afternoon.

Van Amen and his two teenage sons returned home from his wife’s funeral to find their garage door open, with two laptops, iPods and jewelry stolen from their home.

Kristin Van Amen passed away Saturday, June 9.

Van Amen, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Scott Wilson and Port Orchard Police Commander Geoff Marti all said the burglary most likely occurred after someone read Kristin’s obituary placed in the local newspapers and online. Whoever burgled the home saw Van Amen would be at his wife’s funeral at the Christian Life Center Saturday, and took advantage of an empty home.

The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office currently has no suspects in the burglary.

“It’s just ridiculous that somebody would steal from somebody who passed away,” Van Amen said. “This puts burglary on a whole new level.”

Van Amen, a South Kitsap School District employee, estimated the value of items lost at more than $2,500. But he said the monetary value of the items doesn’t matter as much as the emotional toll the burglary took on the day he buried the mother of his children.

“It was a long day and we were all pretty emotionally and physically exhausted,” Van Amen said. “Then we had to deal with coming home to that.”

Van Amen said of all of the things taken from his house, his wife’s small wallet meant the most to him. Inside the wallet was Kristen’s debit card, some membership cards and her driver’s license. There was something about losing his wife’s driver’s license, Van Amen said, that really stuck with him.

“I don’t know why the driver’s license means so much, but it did,” Van Amen said. “It kind of looked like they were trying to take her from me.”

Along with the wallet, Van Amen said it was difficult to lose some of his mother’s jewelry and his sons’ laptops and iPods. After a death, items like iPods and computers help grieving individuals relax, he said.

“They’re (computers, iPods) kind of like comfort blankets,” he said.

Wilson said obituary burglaries are somewhat common nation-wide. Years ago, he said, there were a rash of burglaries stemming from obituaries printed in local newspapers, causing the burglar to be dubbed the ‘obit burglar’. But this is the first incident he has heard of in number years, he said.

Wilson said the sheriff’s office encouraged family members to continue to print obituaries because it was a time-honored tradition. He did say, however, that it was smart to find a trusted neighbor or friend to watch the house while the family is away.

Marti said obituary related burglaries are rare for Port Orchard, but they are known as problems in bigger cities such as Seattle. The problem is exacerbated by social media sights like Facebook and Twitter, Marti said.

“People are posting on their Facebook that they are out on vacation or away,” Marti said. “People see these updates and they see they aren’t around.”

Marti said for funerals, it’s common practice to hire an off-duty police officer to watch a house. He said individuals leaving for a time should call the police and schedule a “stop by,” for police to come and drive by the house. It’s also important to have a good relationship with your neighbors, Marti said, so they can look after the house.

Van Amen said he hoped people could learn from what happened to him.

“It’s a really crummy thing,” Van Amen said. “You hate to see this.”

 

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