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UPDATE: Suspects found after thefts around campus

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

The University of Massachusetts Police Department has released new information following three consecutive thefts in the Fine Arts Center between Sept. 15 and Sept. 23. According to Mary Dettloff, deputy director of news and media relations at UMass, two suspects were arraigned this week in Belchertown District Court on multiple charges of larceny related to reports of backpack, cell phone, wallet, laptop and shoe theft.

“The UMPD arrested Alexandra B. Brewer, 23, of Holyoke, and Gregory Collison, 26, of Amherst, on Sept. 25 after responding to the Franklin Dining Commons following a reported theft of two backpacks,” Dettloff said in a released statement. “While responding, officers observed two individuals who matched the description of the two suspects believed to be involved in a string of backpack thefts on campus in the Fine Arts Center, Franklin Dining Commons and Du Bois Library.”

“The two suspects were stopped and following a brief roadside investigation were placed under arrest and transported to UMPD for booking. During questioning, both suspects made statements implicating themselves in the thefts,” the statement read.

According to Detloff, both suspects have been charged with nine counts of larceny over $250 and five counts of larceny under $250. The district court judge placed bail of $1,000 on each suspect. Collison is due back in court on Sept. 29; Brewer is due back in court on Oct. 10.

“In each case, the backpack was left unattended for minutes or hours. Through the use of camera systems in the campus buildings, officers were able to get descriptions of the suspects, which aided officers who made the arrests,” Dettloff said.

The last cases of the theft occurred Wednesday, Sept. 20, five days before UMPD caught the suspect. Students were rehearsing for an upcoming musical called the “Runaways” in the Rand Theater of the Fine Arts Center.

According to sophomore psychology major Akira Rose, at least seven or eight students had stuff stolen within the 10 minute time frame the room was left unattended right before 10 p.m., as all students shifted from the Rand Theatre to the Curtain Theatre to watch the end of rehearsal.

“We came back and it was gone,” said Rose, who had her phone and wallet stolen. “Basically, I haven’t been able to buy anything. I have no form of communication except my laptop and I need to use that when I need to speak to anyone really, which is a hassle. I had to buy a new UCard.”

Rose said she wasn’t notified of the previous thefts until her own case was reported, and said she wished UMPD would have notified them of other thefts that occurred in the FAC that week.

Andrés Molano Sotomayor, a junior theater and communications major, had his new pair of blue and white Nike Air Max sneakers stolen that same night.

“I was like okay, they stole the one good pair of shoes I had; I can’t afford shoes. The money that I make goes toward my family not to spend on shoes,” Sotomayor said. “I don’t think I will get my shoes back.”

Molano Sotomayor said while he heard of these types of thefts happening before, he thought his stuff would be safe considering the stage managers were staying behind as most of the cast switched to the different theatre. In the last ten minutes the stage managers also switched theatres, opening up a short window for the thefts to occur.

Since the arraignment, Rose and Molano Sotomayor have not had their belongings returned. Additionally, a UMPD crime alert has yet to be released for the case. Molano Sotomayor, who still has his phone, received a phone call from UMPD telling him they have arraigned the suspected suspects.

According to the released statement, UMPD Chief Tyrone Parham encourages the community to take precautions to prevent similar crimes—to not leave their room door unlocked, even if for just a couple minutes, and to not leave valuables where they can easily be seen.

UMass students and staff can register their valuables with UMPD’s Project Protect which helps increase the chances of recovering lost or stolen property.

Caeli Chesin can be reached at mchesin@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @caeli_chesin.

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