News, Off Campus, Top Story

Off-Campus Students Face Persistent Break-Ins

Hannah Freehill, MCAS ’22, first realized someone had broken into her off-campus house on Radnor St. when she noticed something was wrong with her jewelry. 

“We got back and I went into my room and all my jewelry was on my desk in a ball,” Freehill said. “I was like ‘Oh that’s a little weird.’ I thought someone was trying something on and it accidentally got tangled.”

She then checked if her laptop was in her room—it wasn’t. Five out of seven laptops belonging to her and her roommates, as well as all the cash in the house and some jewelry, were gone. She and her roommates had only been out of their lower floor unit for a little over an hour.  

Immediately, she and her roommates called the Boston Police Department (BPD). It took 30 minutes for an officer to arrive at their unit, she said. 

“We had enough time to be crying and freaking out by ourselves,” Freehill said, though she also said that the officers who arrived were helpful and quick to try and calm the roommates down. 

When a BPD detective arrived at their unit later that night, though, his investigation heightened the residents’ nerves. 

“He would come into our rooms and be like, ‘That window, he could easily come into that window,’” Freehill said. “Like, what are we supposed to do about that?”

Stephen Borne, a District 14 BPD officer, said that when BPD receives a burglary call, officers will respond differently depending on whether the crime has already taken place or if the suspects are still on the scene. The latter, he said, would prompt a larger response with more officers.

If the suspect has already fled the scene, a BPD officer will check the suspect’s points of entry, record the victims’ information, and call in a detective for further investigation, according to Borne. 

“So if you called 911 and you said, ‘You know, I just came home my front door is open, my laptop’s now missing,’” Borne said. “And you call 911 and stated that, then an officer would come out to your residence, observe the door that was left unlocked, take down the information of yourself or whoever the reporting party is, whoever the party whose laptop was taken. They would try to get serial numbers off of whatever you had for electronic devices or whatever.”

While neither the BPD officer nor the detective reporting to the Radnor St. house were able to identify the culprit, a resident of the unit above said that she was doing laundry while her downstairs neighbors were away and had seen a man leaving their unit. 

“She saw a guy leaving out the back with a computer under his arm but she just thought it was one of our guy friends or boyfriends,” Freehill said. “He had a normal build, looked like a college kid and he was wearing a hoodie and a mask, obviously, so she couldn’t identify him.”

Almost immediately after the incident, Freehill and her roommates installed a Ring camera, which records outside of the house. 

On the Friday following the break-in, their Ring camera recorded a man walking the length of their house, taking walks around the block, and coming back to their house multiple times. The following Monday, Ring footage also caught the man doing the same thing, as well as walking up the stairs to the door and inspecting the Ring camera.

“That [Monday] night we were like ‘Alright, we’ve got to do something’ because the detectives and the police told us from here on out to report any suspicious activity,” Freehill said. 

Freehill, whose family lives in Chestnut Hill, called BPD while her mother called the Boston College Police Department (BCPD). 

“While I was calling BPD my mom was calling BCPD, just to be like, ‘There’s a creepy guy outside my daughter’s, who lives off campus, house,’” she said. “They were like, ‘Oh, we’ll send someone over right away’ and they never sent one.”

The police never came to a conclusion in their investigation, the Radnor St. residents said. 

Borne said that generally, resolutions for burglary cases benefit the victims. 

“You know, personally I’ve experienced positive outcomes where we have gotten an individual that was seen inside of a residence,” he said. “We’ve also had luck with also recovering items. But that’s, you know, in a broad sense where I can only touch upon a few things.”

Students living in another off-campus house nearby on Gerald Rd. went out for dinner on the night of Nov. 6. They returned later to a seemingly calm yet violated home. 

The residents had previously made it a routine to lock up their laptops in a walk-in closet before leaving their house. Emma Dahlquist, MCAS ’22, said that it had been coincidently left unlocked the night of the dinner. Entering her closet that night, she knew something was wrong. 

“I was going in my closet, and I noticed that my laptop was no longer on my jewelry box, and so I called [my roommate], and I said, ‘Did you move my laptop?’,” Dahlquist said. “She thought I was joking.”

Locked doors and inoperative surveillance cameras were not enough to stop a burglary. According to Dahlquist and her roommates, the culprit entered through a window nine feet off the ground and left with three of their laptops. 

After initially contacting their parents, the residents called BPD, and then BCPD, who were the first to arrive on the scene. 

“BCPD came first, and then when Boston Police showed up, BCPD kind of just left,” Emily Wells, one of the roommates and MCAS ’22, said. 

BPD ran the investigation. A forensics team collected fingerprints from the windowsill, where the culprit had entered and a few other places around the house, and then left, according to the residents. 

Since then, there have not been many developments in the investigation. One day after the break-in, the Find My iPhone feature linked to Dahlquist’s laptop showed it was moving on a Boston area interstate. She called BPD, but they took no action, according to Wells. 

“Only because it was on a highway, it wasn’t an accurate location so they couldn’t have [pursued the laptop],” Wells said.

Carly Richardson, MCAS ’23, and Elizabeth Hargraves, MCAS ’22, shared their experience with BPD after a man attempted to enter their off-campus apartment on Kirkwood in early November.

Richardson said she saw a man on the front porch of her apartment while leaving in the car, flashed the car lights at the man, and he pulled up his hood and walked away quickly. She said the man was white, wearing mostly gray and black, had a beard, and appeared to be middle-aged. She also said he had a sleeve of tattoos, which matched a description she heard from other students living off campus.

“I didn’t see him rattle my door, but I know that the robber has been like not even breaking and entering, and just like going into unlocked doors, so I would assume he tried the doors like maybe I didn’t lock it all the way or it didn’t go immediately after I left, like watching me to see like who’s leaving and if someone is,” she said.

Richardson said she spoke to BPD over the phone and gave a description of the man. 

Hargraves said she spoke to BPD when they arrived at the apartment. Hargraves said BPD took a description of the man, asked about the situation, and drove off in the direction Richardson said the man went. 

“I just remember them not really taking it with a lot of like care,” Hargraves said. “They weren’t very sympathetic to the situation in terms of the fact that a lot of girls in the house were really scared and some people were crying.”

Hargraves said she does not remember if she and her roommates ever spoke with BCPD, but was unsettled knowing that neither BCPD nor BPD were able to stop the offender.

“It’s definitely a little unsettling considering both BCPD and Boston PD have jurisdiction over our neighborhood,” Hargraves said. “I knew that it was a repeat offender who was going around and kind of hitting these off-campus houses, and it didn’t seem like much was done to either find out who it was or put a stop to it.”

Since then, Richardson and Hargraves said they have not heard any updates from BPD.

Although off-campus areas are under the jurisdiction of BPD, Borne said the department often collaborates with BCPD in policing them, especially on weekends. 

“We have a very good relationship with the Boston College Police Department,” he said. “During the football games we work together. During the weekends we have extra cars on … one of the patrol cars will carry a Boston College police officer with them on patrol. We’re also very involved with, you know, off-campus resident life.”

Julia Evers, MCAS ’22, said she often feels the police are patrolling the neighborhoods at the wrong times, and that their first priority often seems to be catching students for drinking.

“I’m not sure if it’s BCPD or Boston PD, but I feel like Saturday nights on Kirk or Foster Street, you see hordes of police cars going up and down the street,” she said. “So it kind of feels like they’re, like, over policing when they think kids are going to be drinking or whatever, and then when actual things happen, like break-ins, they don’t do anything.” 

BPD Sergeant Detective John Boyle said collaborating with BCPD makes off-campus communities safer. 

“We have a lot of history with the department, we work in partnership with them, as well as we work in partnership with the students and the college itself,” he said. “Basically, you know, our goal is to build neighborhoods without fear, prevent crime, you know, arrest perpetrators.”

Brooke Kaiserman, a former Heights editor and MCAS ’21, lived in a house on Gerald Rd. last year.  

One of Kaiserman’s former roommates, Abby Schlageter, MCAS ’21, said that in January of last year an unfamiliar man knocked on her door and told her that he was from Verizon and needed to do maintenance on her house’s cable lines. He repeatedly asked her if any of her roommates would be home before 8 p.m. When Schlateger said no, the man left and did not return back to her house at any point that day. 

The next month, Kaiserman was home when another unfamiliar man rang her doorbell. 

“The first thing he said to me was, ‘I’m not a salesman, I’m not a Mormon,’” she said. 

The man then said that he needed to check the girls’ electricity, and was doing this for all for the town of Brighton. Kaiserman did not let the man enter the house. 

Annie Bredemann, another one of Kaiserman’s roommates and MCAS ’21, had her mother call BPD about an hour after the incident. The police said they were frustrated that the girls had called so long after the incident had occurred, and told Bredemann’s mother that the girls should ask for a police walkthrough of the house and not go back to the house alone. 

She then called BPCD, who came with the girls to do the walkthrough of their house.

During the walkthrough, BCPD officers told Bredemann and Erin Santacrose, another roommate and CSON ’21, to never answer the door unless they had a predetermined maintenance appointment, to call the police as soon as the incident happened, and to take a picture of an unfamiliar person through the window to scare them off and to have evidence, Kaiserman said. 

After the house walkthrough, Bredemann called their landlord to make sure that the man had not been sent by him. The landlord said he had not sent the man and that the event seemed very suspicious, according to Kaiserman.

According to Borne, Kirkwood Rd. and Gerald Rd. could be classified as burglary hotspots. The high concentration of college students living on these streets attracts criminals, he said.

“You know, I would say it’s elevated, or it’s a hotspot in terms of you only have a certain type of community living in that area,” Borne said.

In 1990, students wrote in a letter to the editor in The Heights about the inconveniences of off-campus living, discussing the fear of crime that off-campus residents have to live with.

“We have had to deal with a landlord who is often unsympathetic to the needs of his tenants and is not overly concerned with the safety and protection of these tenants,” the students wrote. “… Most recently we were awakened in the middle of the night and harassed by a group of strange men as they tried to kick our door in. Altogether we have filed four police reports since moving into our apartment last September. Unfortunately, police reports cannot abate the fear that we have experienced as a result of this.” 

Between Dec. 15, 2015 and March 17, 2016, there were 27 reported break-ins among off campus residences, many of which included stolen valuables such as laptops. In 2016, a house on Lake Street was robbed at gunpoint. Though the tenants were not harmed, the invaders stole many valuable items, including credit cards.

On March 17, 2016 The Heights wrote an editorial calling for a better alert system for off-campus break-ins, and the following August, it wrote an editorial calling for the University to address the break-ins and warn students about what they would face by living off campus.

Foster St., Kirkwood Rd., Lake St., and many other popular student-occupied locations off campus are in Brighton, which is located in the BPD district D-14. In the most recently released data, BPD reported 36 robberies or attempted robberies and 121 instances of residential burglary in D-14 from Jan. 1 to Nov. 15 of 2020. 

Although the BPD investigation into the burglary on Gerald Rd. from November has been unsuccessful, the residents are confident in their own theory of who the culprit may have been: an unidentified man who had knocked on their door just days before the break-in. 

The residents said that a man knocked on their door at 3 p.m. on the prior Friday, asking if a man named Tyler lived there. That same man similarly loitered around their neighbor’s houses that same day too, the residents said.

“I was talking to the girls across the street, just if they had any footage that we could use, … and they’re like no, but some guy was over here earlier at like 3 p.m. being very insistent on bringing our groceries inside and like trying to get in the house,” Isabelle Sorensen, one of the roomates and MCAS ’22, said. 

They suspect that the culprit tried to determine whether men or women lived in the house by knocking on the door in daylight, and seeing whether a man or woman would anwer. If it was a man, the roommates said they believe a robbery would have been less likely. 

Evers said that although, for the most part, she feels safe in her off-campus house, the reality of six girls living alone is that they always have to be mindful of the possibilities. 

“I’m not a very worrisome person, but I think it is something I think about pretty often because we are young and women,” she said. “So we have to think about it.”

Kelly Connolly, a transfer student and CSOM ’23, lives in a residence hall at 2000 Commonwealth Ave. Connolly said she initially was not too concerned about off-campus safety when talking to the Office of Undergraduate Admission and other students about transferring to BC.

“But then when I got to school, I started hearing some stories,” Connolly said. 

Connolly said that on Jan. 31 her roommates were waiting for the Commonwealth Ave. bus behind Gabelli Hall to return home when a man approached them and tried to make conversation with them.

“They walked away, [and] he started kind of chasing them,” Connolly said. “ … I think having someone I know have an unfavorable incident or something like that definitely scared me, so I definitely think it’s something I’ll just be very cognizant of next year.”

After three incidents at their own house, and hearing about countless others from other BC students who live in nearby off campus houses, Freehill and her roommates said that they all feel more uneasy in their unit on Radnor. 

“All of us have never felt unsafe in our own home and now this year we feel like we’re always on edge,” Moira Garry, Freehill’s roommate and MCAS ’22, said. “We are constantly checking locks and windows.”

Joelle Kelley, another resident of the Radnor unit and CSOM ’22, also said that she and her roommates have become much more aware of their valuables after having to replace the ones that were stolen.  

“We hide our laptops everytime we leave because we’re nervous,” she said. “We just don’t trust, even being in the house, that someone’s not there so we usually keep our laptops with us all the time.”

Kelley said that BC needs to take more steps to address off-campus break-ins, since this is not the first year that they have been happening. 

“I think BC needs to take certain steps, like maybe putting blue lights on the streets out here because that could potentially scare [anyone attempting to break in] away,” she said. 

Emergency blue lights, which are scattered across campus, contain panic buttons that connect students directly with BCPD during emergencies.

Though Evers and her roommates have not experienced a break-in at their house on Kirkwood, she said that there is a general consensus among off-campus residents that break-ins are a common occurrence.  

Luke Welch, CSOM ’23, plans on living on Foster St. next year and is familiar with the trend of off-campus burglaries. Welch said that his friend’s sister has shared stories of burglaries that she heard about as a junior.

“One of my buddy’s sisters lived off campus last year as a junior, and there was this man who acted as an Xfinity cable guy … [and] they believed him,” he said. “He ended up being like a robber or something, like that he stole stuff too.”

“I hear very often about houses being broken into,” Evers said. “I feel like it’s kind of spoken about like it’s an inevitability, like it’s gonna happen at some point. … Our landlord does have a ton of security cameras around the house, so I’m less worried about it for us, but I’m still worried about it.”

Welch said he is not concerned about living off campus, but still plans on being vigilant with safety precautions. 

“I’m not personally worried about it,” he said. “I just think it comes down to being smart, and like always remember to lock your doors. I mean, that’s the only thing that we can do.”

Connolly said that she plans to live on Kirkwood next year as a junior, and that she has already taken many precautions to keep herself safe—including not walking home alone at night and not staying on main campus late—which she plans to continue next year.

“If I am listening to music or a podcast or something, I’ll take a headphone out, or I will keep it on lower volume just so I can like, be aware of what’s going on around me,” Connolly said.

The robbery left the Gerald Rd. residents more vigilant than they were before. Their locked house fell victim to a targeted robbery, so now, they go about their days off-campus like they could again be targeted. 

“Especially since the robbery, like even before that when you’ve heard about the robberies, like we’ve definitely made a concerted effort to lock the door, which you don’t think about in your dorm,” Wells said.

The extra precautions that the residents have been taking, they said, are common among women living off campus.

“I definitely was a little bit more like on edge and I still am,” Richardson said. “I always am on edge when I’m walking around late at night in the dark, but for the most part I kind of always felt safe on our side yard where our driveway is. But like after that I had three Ring cameras installed and lights that would trigger with motion and like any recording of our front door. I was like I need that now because I was literally being watched … So I definitely would say that it made me super uneasy.”

Welch said it’s important for off-campus residents to act proactively in preventing burglaries. 

“It’s not like these houses are super nice with, like, high tech security or anything … we can’t stop people from being who they are, but it’s just being proactive about it and sort of remembering to lock your door, close the curtains when you’re gone, stuff like that,” he said.

Borne said that the BPD takes steps to thwart crime in off-campus areas. Aside from attaching posters to the doors of off-campus residences with tips on keeping houses secure, the department works in conjunction with the Office of Residential Life to conduct an informational meeting for off-campus students in the fall, where they give guidance for how to prevent burglary. 

“So myself and another officer, we go and speak at that meeting, and we try to impress upon the students the importance of, you know, locking your doors, being vigilant, seeing something and saying something,” he said.

Freehill said that she wished BC would do more to combat off campus break-ins, especially because BC does not grant four years of housing to all students, so some juniors may not have the option to live on campus.  

“They kind of are the reason we are off-campus,” she said. “They kicked us off here because they don’t have enough space for us so I think they need to take certain measures to keep us safe and I think they need to actually care about it and what happens.”

Photos by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor

February 16, 2021