Our Story Begins:
Smash and Grab

Five minutes.

That’s all the time I spent inside a store at an outlet mall after taking my son to the orthodontist. I literally grabbed what was on the rack, bought the shirt I needed, and I was back at the car.

This whole thing came after a whirlwind race and chauffeur duties in the afternoon. I went to work early, did an interview with a Congressman, raced to the kids’ school, picked up one of my sons, ran across town to the orthodontist and then started our routine of frozen yogurt (which he gets free for a good checkup) and then back home. I had a dress shirt needed replacement after a coffee mishap some days ago, so on the way home we stopped at the outlet mall.

It was an expensive trip but not because of the clothes I bought.

My son had his backpack, which had his workbooks, notebooks, homework, projects…all of that was in there. I hadn’t noticed, but he left it on the floor of the passenger side of the vehicle. We’d been in the store that five minutes . . . 10 at most. When we got back the window was smashed. The backpack was gone.


Here’s the funny thing – the most valuable stuff like my laptop for work and some portable hard drives were in the back compartment of my SUV. They did a quick smash and grab was the thing. I was relieved that the electronics weren’t stolen.

That’s when I saw the glassy-eyed look of my son. No, he had no phone or iPad or laptop or anything in his backpack. That didn’t mean what was in there wasn’t valuable. He had all his workbooks, and new ones take about 2 weeks to ship, he said. He knows. He works in the library at school. His homework, which he’d worked all afternoon on, was gone. His long-term project for science was too.

Then he said what I feared he would say: “this was my fault.”

Yes . . . he left his backpack in the front seat. No, it wasn’t his fault.

“It’s the idiots who broke into the car’s fault, not yours!”

Related: Our Story Begins: Information Overload

When we talked to mall security they asked what was missing. I told them of the backpack and what was inside. My son told the officer: “not sure what they thought they’d get unless they wanted to learn algebra and science.”  The officer said she loved his attitude.

He was scared. Not just because someone had violated our personal space but scared it was his fault.

This is where I have to let him know that nothing he did was his fault. We got home, I cleaned up the glass, made an appointment to get it fixed, and then immediately emailed his teachers. I drove to the police station but on the way my phone rang and an officer was already looking into it. I was floored. A smash and grab was usually small potatoes, I thought, but she was taking it very seriously. She’d found 4 or 5 other bags. She was trying to find who’d done it and was just as indignant. Another family drove up, their car broken into as well.

“Oh my, I hope your stuff turns up soon,” they told me.

When I told the officer that none of the bags she found were my son’s she was just as crestfallen as I was. I told her I’d email the teachers, that was his big worry.  “The dog ate my homework” would sound reasonable compared to this.

Then the cop smiled and said “tell you what . . . give him this.”

She pulled out a card, put the report number on it, and wrote that in a smash and grab, this boy’s backpack and school items were stolen.
“I can’t write a note, but they can call me,” she said.

The teachers all emailed . . . and said to a person that they thought it was horrible.

The lesson wasn’t to keep stuff out of the line of sight or to keep electronics out of your backpack – all of which we did learn. No . . . the lesson was that humanity abounds. That fault lies in the criminal not in our actions, though we can learn what not to do.

The lesson was that bad things happen, but good people are still around us.