Burglars Victimizing Waldo Canyon Fire Evacuees

Police are investigating 11 home burglaries and 16 car break-ins reported by evacuees.


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Residents who live just east of the Mountain Shadows neighborhood still have their homes, but some found themselves victims of the Waldo Canyon Fire.

After being evacuated on Tuesday, residents near Centennial Boulevard and Mule Deer Drive were allowed home on Friday. Their homes were still standing, but 11 residences had been broken into.

"Found that our house was completely vandalized. A lot of hateful damage; my child's artwork was smashed, family pictures smashed (and) broken glass all over the place," said Brian Vitulli. "(We) just didn't understand why somebody would do something like that."

The Vitullis came home to a ransacked home. Their living room furniture thrown around, and their couch slashed. A jewelry box and dresser drawers were emptied. Worst of all, their daughter's artwork was badly damaged.

"They just ripped it from the wall, tore it in half," said Vitulli. "We were happy to have a house, but to come home to that was very upsetting."

"The door to the garage to the house was open, and you could see in there, and I knew the TV was gone," said resident Mark Galley. "You're violated. You're in a bad situation, and then somebody comes and takes advantage of your misfortunes at the time."

Galley captured frightful video of his family's escape. Flames could be seen coming down the ridge just blocks from his home. As he waited in traffic to get out of his neighborhood, he captured footage of flames approaching Centennial Boulevard. Had firefighters not stopped the flames at the four-lane road, hundreds of more homes would have been threatened.

When Galley was allowed to return home, he was happy he still had a home. When he got back, he found burglars had used his wheel barrow to steal his television. He said they raided his refrigerator and stole a pair of shoes, while leaving their pair on the porch.

"Your neighborhood may not even be here when you get home and then someone comes and steals things from you, "said Vitulli. "'Karma,' basically. It's all you can say."

Evacuee Bear Wilson was disgusted that his and his wife's belongings had also been vandalized. He found comfort in neighbors he least expected.

"Food, flowers, sometimes just a hug; offers of just any kind of help they could give and some of these people had already lost their homes," said Wilson. "This is a great community we live in. For every one person that's a piece of trash, there's thousands that are wonderful people."

District Attorney Promises Maximum Punishment

Along with the 11 residential burglaries, Colorado Springs police are also investigating 25 car break-ins at three hotels near the World Arena. 7NEWS has confirmed that 16 of those 25 car break-ins involve an evacuee.

On Monday morning, El Paso and Teller County District Attorney Dan May promised the maximum punishment when the burglars are arrested.

"To those who may be contemplating, thinking about burglarizing those homes, you better get prepared also. I hope you have packed your bags. We intend to evacuate you from our community and we intend to do that for many, many years," said May.

The maximum sentence is 24 years for each count.

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