‘We Were Terrified': Break-in Gives College Students Real-Life Lesson in Off-Campus Safety

A BU student watched her off-campus apartment's Ring camera in horror as she realized there was a burglar in her roommate's bedroom

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A break-in and burglary at their off-campus apartment in Allston last fall was a wake-up call for Boston University sophomores Ellie, Jenny and Laura.

“We were terrified and really freaked out.  We felt really unsafe,” they said.

“Once they changed the locks and we put the cameras in and we were very vigilant about locking the door, like even if we were going in and out for like a second,” said Laura.

“We kept our shades pulled. We kept our windows closed, locked.  I mean, we were terrified,” says Ellie.  “After that first time we never had our blinds up in that apartment ever because we were really scared that someone just saw us leave,” said Jenny.

Ring cameras they set up inside the apartment quickly confirmed a rat problem, and a worse one Friday night in January.

“I was watching them get ready for their night out and I was talking to them on the Ring camera,” said Ellie.   “I'm being like, have a great night, miss you guys!”

Thirty minutes later, Ellie, who was away for the weekend, saw a notification of motion at their back door.

“And there’s just a hooded figure in the bottom corner of Laura’s bedroom,” she said.   “And then I see the flashlight click on and he starts grabbing through her things and I think oh my God I’m watching us get robbed!”

She immediately called 911.

The man left after noticing the camera, making it out before police arrived.

But the girls and their parents got a look at the masked, gloved intruder.  It was a creepy image.

“They wanted us out immediately they were really scared for us,” said Laura.    “My dad said never set foot in that apartment ever again,” adds Ellie.

“We were all just terrified and it’s just so scary imagining someone going through your things. And you can see him touching our jackets and going through Laura’s things,” said Jenny.

“And, what would have happened if any of us were home?” asked Ellie.

They couldn’t help but think about the Idaho college murders in the news.

“There is this massive nationwide story of a worst-case scenario of someone who has broken into someone’s home and murdered them,” Ellie said.

Law enforcement officials seized dark clothing, medical gloves, a flashlight and other items from a Pennsylvania home where they arrested a graduate student charged with stabbing four University of Idaho students to death. That is according to recently unsealed court documents.

 “We felt especially after the second time we were being targeted,” added Laura.

“I would say that they're targeted for their predictability and schedule,” said Boston Police Officer Stephen Borne, a District 14 Community Service Officer.

Amid Brighton’s large college population,  he sees a lot of breaking and entering calls.

“You can predict a student's schedule, you can predict their breaks for winter break and spring break,” said Borne.   “So the predictability of that gives someone that would like to take advantage of them an upper hand.”

He also thinks the ease of access is a factor. 

“There are a lot of students that leave their laptop opened in front of a window that's opened and they'll leave for the day and they'll come back and the laptop's gone or they'll leave their door unlocked or open,” he said.  “We're not blaming them.  It's just a situational awareness that they need to take into account that they're not on campus anymore.”

Borne said police work in partnership with the local colleges and universities to educate students about keeping their homes secure, and what crimes are happening in their neighborhoods.  They even provide security assessments.

“We'll come out to your apartment. We'll come out to your house and we'll walk around with you, we’ll identify vulnerable areas,” he said.  “Locks that aren't good or windows that need to be secured. And we basically write up a report at the end and that and we'll give you that report and then you can take that to your landlord or to your management company ....and say, I had the Boston Police come out.  They've identified all these things as vulnerable areas. We need to fix them.”

Before you sign a lease, find out if there is a security system in the building, if there are cameras on the property, if entryways and the perimeter are well lit.  And make sure shrubs are cut below the window levels.

Inside, check the doors for peepholes, secure locks and secure hinges.

Look for sturdy locks on the windows and secured air conditioning units, blinds that fully cover the windows,  and ask if there are key control procedures to ensure that locks are changed when keys are lost or missing.

Investing in extra protection, like door stops, window alarms and home security cameras is recommended.

“Cameras are very inexpensive.  A lot of the cases that involve cameras are solved with identification,” said Borne.   “So, we always stress thing to have to aid us and to aid yourselves so you get notified.”

Boston Police also recommend that students monitor all open windows, install locking devices that allow windows to open 6 inches or less, keep their doors locked at all times, collect the mail daily and call 911 to report any suspicious activity.

They advise against hiding a key outside of your residence.

When students are going to be away, police recommend locking all the windows and doors, drawing the blinds or shades, leaving a light on, and having a friend collect the mail every day. 

Ellie, Laura and Jenny, who say they discovered that the apartment windows had faulty locks, broke their lease and moved out. 

“We’ve, like,  all grown up in semi-small towns, we've never thought of any of these things, like having to be this cautious,” said Laura.

“But it’s like a wakeup call.  When you're in a city, you just have to be aware,” Jenny said.

 “Yeah,” Ellie agreed,  “it's like that saying, like you never think it can happen to you,  until it does.”

You may want to check out the reviews of the building management company before signing a lease and steer clear if past tenants have had problems.

And, students living off-campus should follow their town’s police and community pages on social media so they know what’s happening in the area.

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