A man is breaking into homes in a New Jersey community and leaving behind valuables in at least one case to simply survey sleeping family members while walking from room to room, police and victims say.
One homeowner recounted his bizarre confrontation with the burglar in Belleville at around 4 a.m. last Wednesday.
"I was standing right there, he was standing right there," said Michael Maldonado, describing how he came face to face with the intruder in his living room in the middle of the night.
"I freaked out. My blood dropped to my feet. I didn't know what to do," he said.
In nothing but his boxers, Maldonado had raced upstairs from his basement bedroom after he and his wife were awakened by a chilling FaceTime message from their daughters on the second floor.
"She actually did say, 'There's somebody up here with us,'" said Maldonado's wife, Milagros.
Daughter Debora, who is 12 years old, said she'd seen a hooded stranger emerge from her brother's room into their little sister's room. There were eight children in the house.
"I got really freaked out, I thought I was just imagining things," the young girl said. "'Cause I was moving side to side. I was really scared."
When Maldonado confronted the man, he knew something wasn't right.
"I asked him, 'What do you want?' His response was, 'I was just upstairs,'" he said.
The dad's blood ran cold.
"That's when I told him, come outside," he said.
That's where Maldonado tried to tackle the man wearing a cap and hooded sweatshirt, but the man fought back.
"He tells me, 'You gonna be like that?' and runs away," Maldonado said.
The family would later come to find the intruder's muddy footprints in nearly every room of their Smallwood Avenue home.
"He went into my room while we were sleeping. He was in my daughters' room while they were sleeping. He had stepped over my daughters," said Maldonado.
Strangely, the intruder only took $40 from Maldonado's wallet, and left behind cellphones and tablets in the open.
Police believe the same suspect has struck or tried to break into at least two other homes on Fairway Avenue and Elena Place within the last week and a half.
For now, the Maldonados are grateful their children weren't hurt.
"I really give thanks to God, he did protect our children," Michael Maldonado said.