By Cory A. Thompson, contributor
It was a crisp Thursday morning, the first of the semester, when Ann Dunn pressed into her North Asheville home and noticed the first signs of a burglary.
“I had been teaching Dante at the university,” said Dunn, a 68-year-old lecturer in the UNC Asheville humanities program. “I had no idea I was walking into hell.”
At first, Dunn said she thought family was responsible for the open drawers and cupboards. She thought it was one of her children who had knocked askew the white linen tablecloth over the credenza.
“I thought, ‘Oh, they must have been really looking for something,’” Dunn said. “It’s amazing how your brain focuses on only what you expect.”
Dunn said her bafflement grew as she entered her bedroom.
“On the bedside table I saw jewelry boxes. They didn’t belong there – they belonged in the bathroom,” Dunn said. “I was still in disbelief. I thought maybe one of the grandchildren had picked out some necklaces for make-believe.”
But when Dunn ventured into her bathroom, she said she realized the nature of the intrusion. The contents of her jewelry cupboard, she found, were emptied on the floor.
“It felt horrifying,” she said. “It felt as if an elevator dropped, and I was trapped inside. I knew, at that moment, I had been broken into.”
David Shelton, a police officer at UNC Asheville, said lawbreakers prey upon homeowners with set schedules.
“You never know who is hanging around and looking for an opportunity,” Shelton said. “Criminals will sit in neighborhoods they consider ritzy and try and learn people’s patterns.”
Shelton said residents must take steps in order to avoid being a target.
“Look around,” Shelton said. “Take note of any strange vehicles or people. If you leave, make sure your doors and windows are locked.”
Homeowners should take additional precautions if they’re going on a trip, Shelton said.
“Make sure you’ve got a motion light, or a light on a timer,” Shelton said. “Get somebody you trust to be seen around your house.”
Dunn said she heard many of these tips before, but never thought she could be the victim.
“This was somebody who knew my schedule,” Dunn said. “Or, spookier yet, someone who had been watching me and my routines. I live with curtains drawn now.”
In addition to the jewelry, Dunn said she noticed the absence of her computer and camera almost immediately. The Asheville Police Department found the items at a pawn shop the very same day. The data on Dunn’s personal laptop had been wiped.
“I had a panicked moment – it wasn’t about the computer, but for the information on it,” said Dunn, who also heads a dance company. “Now I’m missing the press release for Asheville Ballet’s upcoming concert. I also lost all the research for the articles I’m writing, and volume of poetry I was about to complete.”
According to Dunn’s daughter, Abby Bird, the burglars spared the most important part of the home.
“I’m so glad it didn’t happen when she was home,” said Bird. “She’s safe, but it’s such a shame that she has to live in fear in her own home.”
Dunn said she is shaken, but wants to continue to teach her students.
“It’s very difficult to keep teaching classes while this goes on,” Dunn said. “Grading papers, preparing class – my mind keeps wandering.”
Still, Dunn said, the burglary haunts her every day.
“It’s hard to know exactly what I’m missing,” Dunn said. “It’s hard to look for what’s not there.”