A local family’s tragedy has been compounded by a theft, and now they are reaching out to warn people to protect their property.
On March 23 a massive fire consumed the home of the Skinner family near Jarvis Bay Provincial Park. A little less than a month later, the home was rifled through and many items were stolen.
Tracy Skinner says she was horrified to find her condemned home had been ransacked and personal possessions, of little or no monetary value, stolen from the rubble.
“They took photo albums and home movies… Things like soap and laundry detergent were gone as well,” said Skinner.
“They took things that just makes no sense to take as they had little or no value.”
The theft occurred on April 17, less than a month after the home was consumed by an electrical fire that started in the ceiling.
Skinner says she was in the process of going through the home and cataloguing what was left and what was destroyed for insurance purposes when the theft happened.
“I took photos of everything, that’s how I knew what went missing,” she said.
Many people assume everything will be recouped through insurance, according to Skinner, but she says it isn’t that easy.
In a situation like the Skinner Family is going through, spread sheets have to be created to explain what was in the house and what was destroyed.
She said the photographs of the damage helped her catalogue everything, but it is a long and time consuming process.
“Nothing is a guarantee, they don’t just cut you an cheque and that is it.”
Whatever was left seemingly untouched by the fire was deemed unusable, either from smoke or as a safety concern.
Any electronic items left from the fire, Skinner was told could never be used again because they could potentially start another fire.
“So, some of the stuff they took could even be potentially dangerous,” Skinner said.
“Everything was written off… anything you put on your body had to be thrown away, but they took things like soap and shampoo.”
She says she has developed an overwhelming sense of paranoia, thanks to the theft.
“Every car that comes down my road now I’m on guard and watching.”
“I only just stopped shaking a few days a go,” she said.
The night the theft occurred Skinner and her family was staying with her step-son in a trailer on the property. She remembers hearing a vehicle late a night nearby and went to check it out.
As she crested a hill, she saw a pick-up truck driving down the road away from the ruined house. She said her heart sank.
“I don’t know how, but I just knew something was wrong.”
She said she couldn’t get a look at the truck or anyone inside as it was dark and at a distance.
When surveying the house in the day light, she noticed items were missing that were there only a day or two before.
Much of the house had been boarded up, except for one window, and it is believed the thief came through it to gain access to what was left.
“These people are not human… They have zero regard for any item of sentimental value, and to take advantage of a situation like this if horrifying,” Skinner said.
While the RCMP have been notified, Skinner doesn’t believe much will come from their help.
She says the police have “their hands tied” and that they are “fighting a losing battle.”
“I just feel like the laws are protecting them, the criminals, because they have rights too, but it seems like they have more rights than the victims,” said Skinner.
She believes the laws need to be changed, as many thieves are going through a revolving door: in jail, and then two weeks later back on the streets to break the law again.
“It’s not the police’s fault, they are trying their best with what they have, but something needs to change,” she said, adding the RCMP in Sylvan Lake particularly are understaffed.
While she would like to see a change, Skinner says she doesn’t even know where to begin.
She says seeing something like a community watch may be a good step.
“Neighbours know the patterns in their neighbourhoods. They know which vehicles should be in their neighbour’s yards or driveways. If you see something suspicious, take note of details such as a license plate or make of the vehicle and be sure to report it to police,” said Corporal Ronald Bumbry in a press release.
Alberta RCMP have noticed increases in break and enters and fuel thefts, particularly on rural properties, in recent years. They say these cases tend to increase in the warmer months of spring and peaks during the summer.
The RCMP’s crime prevention tips include: installing security cameras, installing motion sensitive security lights and installing bolt locks on outbuildings.
Skinner has noticed an increase in crime in the region over the last few years, but says she hasn’t heard of another instance like her own.
Skinner says she doesn’t want anyone to experience the same tragedy she has, and wants people to be aware.
“I am greatly concerned that there are people out there who can take advantage of people when they are at their lowest,” said Skinner.