Petula Dvorak
Petula Dvorak
Columnist

Family of deceased D.C. firefighter was target of burglary while they attended funeral in Md.

(Matt McClain/ The Washington Post ) - Members of American Firefighters Motorcyle Club and D.C. firefighters James Hurley, left, and Scott Peterson, right, look on as fellow member Robert Alvarado, center, greets people during a fundraiser for D.C. firefighter Terrence Boston at the Tune Inn Restaurant and Bar on Monday.

(Matt McClain/ The Washington Post ) - Members of American Firefighters Motorcyle Club and D.C. firefighters James Hurley, left, and Scott Peterson, right, look on as fellow member Robert Alvarado, center, greets people during a fundraiser for D.C. firefighter Terrence Boston at the Tune Inn Restaurant and Bar on Monday.

Imagine what Terrence Boston’s family has been through in the past two weeks.

Boston, a 49-year-old D.C. firefighter, celebrated chili cook, husband and father of three little boys and two big ones, died last month while riding his silver Yamaha Stratoliner motorcycle at an intersection he told everyone that he hated.

Then, while hundreds mourned at his huge funeral service last week, a cunning burglar slipped into the family’s home in Brandywine and cleaned them out.

The thief who reads the obits page to find targets is not, it turns out, an urban legend.

“Seems like targeting a grieving widow with three young children is about as low as you can get,” said Robert Alvarado, a fellow D.C. firefighter and organizer of a fundraising “Breakfast for Boston” at Capitol Hill’s Tune Inn on Monday morning.

The family lost all their electronics, jewelry and any remaining sense of safety.

“I’ve taken hundreds of [breaking and entering] reports, and this is a crime that’s really hard to shake,” said Lt. Bill Alexander, spokesman for the Prince George’s County police.

Still, Alexander doesn’t remember a single one of these funeral burglaries in his 17 years on the job. He checked with all the bosses in the Prince George’s police department, and it appears to be an isolated incident.

That wasn’t the case this summer in New Jersey, Missouri and Arkansas, where police tracked a string of burglaries in each state that happened when mourners were at a service. Last year, it happened in Oregon.

The burglars scan the obituary section and hit the homes of families during the funeral. It’s tough to avoid publicizing the place and hours of a memorial service. But most funeral directors try to keep the family from publishing the home address for a reception afterward.

“If people insist on giving an address, we strongly suggest that families have someone wait at home,” said Kevin DeVol, a director at the DeVol Funeral Home in Georgetown.

Did he learn this from a bad experience?

“No, we learned that in mortuary school,” DeVol said.

The death notice for Boston didn’t have the family’s home address, but his funeral was widely publicized.

So far, police haven’t made an arrest in the case. In the meantime, the outraged firefighters are doing what firefighters do second-best. (After fighting fires. And maybe cooking.)

The firefighting brotherhood is strong. And it’s twofold, in this case. Boston’s wife, Angela Ocampo, is a firefighter with the Fairfax County department.

Since the break-in, she’s felt unsafe in their home, with their boys, ages 7, 5 and 9 months old. The hedges and trees around their property are thick. So the firefighters came over and did some aggressive gardening to make the house feel less isolated.

“He’s closer to me than some family,” one said about Boston.

Boston worked for 12 years at Engine 23, where he started as an emergency medical technician and switched over to firefighting. At 49, he was the oldest firefighter in the place and the soul, father figure and heart of the company, firefighters said.

They spent hours together at the firehouse near the George Washington University campus, where hot plates and forgotten curling irons send engines running in and out of dorms.

Joe Chisholm, also a firefighter in that station house, remembers their last big fire together, a warehouse in the 3800 block of T Street NW.

“He was the oldest guy out there, but he was always a step ahead of everybody,” Chisholm said.

A lot of firefighters ride motorcycles, too. And a couple of dozen lined Pennsylvania Avenue outside the Tune Inn, the dive bar where every firefighter has “at least one breakfast — it’s a tradition,” one of them told me. (The venerable Capitol Hill bar suffered a bad kitchen fire in 2011 that shut the establishment for nearly four months.)

On Monday, the Tune Inn held a fundraiser for Boston. Breakfast buffet and beer for $20. The place was packed.

“It’s important for us that those three young boys don’t forget who their dad was, and that he would provide for them if this didn’t happen,” said Deangelo Bush, also an Engine 23 firefighter who was there for breakfast with his little girl.

Bush and others set up a college fund for Boston’s kids.

And after the breakfast, the bike-riding firefighters — the American Firefighters Motorcycle Club — gathered up the cash, adjusted their leather vests, got on their iron horses and headed for the widow’s house to hand her the money.

How much did they raise?

“We don’t want to tell anyone else what’s in that house,” Alvarado said. “She’s still scared. And we’ll keep that quiet.”

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

 
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