Over several months, Montgomery County police said, criminals crept into more than 20 houses in Germantown and Gaithersburg while the residents were inside, stealing phones, credit cards and cars. Last week, authorities indicted Marcus Antonio Lee, 20, in four of the burglaries and in another attempt, and say he is a suspect in others. He denies involvement.
Although police say the latest rash of incidents stopped with the June 20 arrest of Lee and others, the effects are lasting.
“It’s a pretty nice neighborhood,” Bell-Jacobs said, “but now it’s just been tormented.”
She still falls asleep on the couch, but keeps the lights on most of the night and constantly peers out the windows. Another woman whose home was hit has had trouble sleeping and is considering moving her family.
Bell-Jacobs said people in her neighborhood are keeping an eye out for each other. But her husband, Roderick, said the deeper change is how they’re keeping an eye on anyone they don’t recognize.
“Just call it what it is,” he said. “I look at people differently. Even somebody walking through. I’m sorry. It may be profiling or whatever, but I watch ’em. ‘Where you going?’ . . . I look at everything now.”
While yearly homicide totals in Montgomery hover in the teens, burglaries come in the thousands. They’ve dropped 15 percent since 2008, but the county still had 3,061 burglaries of homes and businesses last year. That’s less than the 3,953 in the District, but three times the total in neighboring Fairfax County, the more populous suburban county Montgomery compares itself to.
Days after the intruder left the Jacobs’s home and drove off with their new Hyundai and a State Department ID, Steven Fallow was sleeping in his townhouse a couple of miles away.
A burglar came through the kitchen window and stole Fallow’s PlayStation game system and his 2001 Honda Civic. Police say Lee was at it again.
Fallow, 32, spends his time working at Best Buy, exercising at the gym and going to night school, not worrying about latching the kitchen window. He counts himself lucky that the intruder didn’t enter his bedroom. “It was really my fault,” he said. “I don’t feel less safe. If the window was locked, nothing would have happened.”
That was not Monika Puchala’s reaction. The single mother and Polish immigrant lives next door and works as a lab technician at MedImmune, the Gaithersburg biotech firm. She and other neighbors offered Fallow rides to work before police recovered his car.