A series of five break-ins into the homes of Asian residents in Newton has caused alarm within the community.
Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, Chief of Police John Carmichael, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, and Officer Justin Lau responded to questions and concerns raised by residents during a three-and-a-half-hour long community update on July 15.
“As you know we’ve had five break-ins in a row over the course of four weeks, and in every single instance all the victims are Asian, and it’s hard for me to believe this is a coincidence,” Fuller said. “I will absolutely leave it up to the lawyers how you define hate crimes, but to me this feels like acts of hate and feels like acts of racism.”
The first break-in was on June 13 on Walnut St. and the second on June 19 on Dedham St., according to a community update from Fuller on July 13. The break-in on Helene Rd. happened the following day. The fourth break-in was on June 27 on Quinobequin Rd. and the fifth on July 10 on Country Club Rd.
Newton Police Department (NPD) has not made any arrests related to the break-ins, Carmichael said.The department noticed the trend after the first three break-ins, and believes all break-ins have been one person.
This year, there were 46 break-ins in Newton, according to Fuller. By this time last year there were 19 break-ins, and there were 35 in 2019.
NPD posted a surveillance video of the suspect on its Facebook page on July 14, four days after the fifth break-in. The suspect’s face is covered with a mask.
The video is being shared on social media and the law enforcement network, Carmichael said. He also said that there is enough description of the suspect’s face for someone in the community to identify him.
In the video, the suspect is seen covering his hand with his sleeve when knocking on the door, Carmichael said. Because of this, he said, it is unlikely that the suspect left any latent fingerprints at any of the scenes. The suspect was holding papers, which Carmichael said indicates he likely had a prepared cover story.
“The families were gone with a very short window, [a] very short timeframe,” Carmichael said. “And it appears from the information that we know that this individual could likely have been casing homes and watching to see if somebody left the house, and then would approach the home and ring the doorbell or knock on the door and knock on the door quite loudly.”
The suspect stole cash, jewelry, handbags, and family heirlooms during the break-ins, according to Fuller. Ryan said the entry into these homes was “very violent,” and, according to Carmichael, windows in the homes were smashed.
Break-in victim Anping Shen asked city representatives to listen and mobilize resources.
“Money, financial loss is one thing, but as District Attorney Ryan mentioned, the sense of security was shattered,” Shen said.
Fuller encouraged residents to make connections with their neighbors and look out for each other.
Break-in victim Andre Luk raised concern about the amount of time it took for the community to be notified about the trend in break-ins.
“Personally I feel that the public should have been made aware much earlier,” Luk said at the meeting. “Whether or not this is a hate crime, or whether or not this is an Asian-targeted crime, valuables [and] properties were being targeted.”
Fuller notified the community about the break-ins in her statement on July 13. NPD issued an advisory due to the five break-ins to Asian households that evening.
After the first break-in, Fuller said the Newton Police have been thoroughly investigating the break-ins, which includes canvassing and adding direct patrols.
Carmichael — who became the new police chief in June, following his five years as chief of the Walpole Police Department — said a judgment call was made on how much information to give the community and when to give that information out. He said they do not want to cause more alarm or fear within the community.
“And now you know being a new chief here that’s no excuse on my end,” Carmichael said. “But in the future I will certainly make sure that we work with our community services and our detectives to make sure that we get the appropriate information out in a more timely manner.”
Featured Image By Keara Hanlon / Heights Staff