Picking up the pieces when the police leave

Lori Baldassi
By Lori Baldassi April 24, 2018 18:48

Mike McCann and his wife Rene have lead lives that, from the outside, looking in seems very ordinary.

Mike and Rene McCann in their home in Windsor in March 2018.

Case in point: they have been married for 27 years, they still reside in the same house. A house where they raised a now fully-grown family, today, they can be seen as the ultimate poster children for those moving slowly into a life of full-on retirement and middle-class leisure.

Mike, a retired auto worker, is the president of the local Blues Society, while Rene, who was not ready to retire just yet, works as an administration manager of a medical clinic. Outside of the Blues Society and work, the McCann’s spend their free time with family, neighbors and friends, as well as traveling and volunteering their time to a number of Blues events. For all intents and purposes, life was good for the McCann’s.

One day, on a cold January night, that would change. Rene and Michael left their home for a Blues fest meeting on the other side of town.

“I had forgotten something for the meeting. When we pulled out of the driveway I said to Mike, “Hey I forgot something,” paused and said, “oh never mind we can get it later,”” she recalled.

The ‘what ifs’ related to Rene McCann’s decision not to go back is one that she has thought about often.

After an evening volunteering, the McCann’s drove back through their familiar middle-class neighbourhood to their familiar middle-class home. Unfortunately, the scene that they came face-to-face with was totally unfamiliar – a house ransacked.

Inside their home, clothes and food were scattered everywhere, and drawers from shelves lay on top of one another. Gone were their personal sentimental items. Broken glass left in its place. The people who ransacked the McCann’s home not only destroyed everything in their path, but also destroyed the tranquility of Mike and Rene’s life retirement bliss.

Rene was the first one to enter the house after they got home. As she scanned the house in disbelief, the reality of the situation came crashing down: their home had been burgled. Immediately, the McCann’s contacted the police. As they sat waiting for law enforcement to arrive, Mike remembered that he had a large amount of money from the last fundraiser in the house, and panic struck again as he started searching for the satchel of money. Luckily, the money had not been stolen

“I had moved it just before I left and didn’t tell Mike. Thank god they didn’t get that because we would have been personally libel for that money,” said Rene.

The OPP responded to the McCann’s situation and, as they perused the damage, they let the McCann’s know some of the reasons for certain kinds of destruction.

Damages from the break-in to the McCann’s home.

“Who knew that they emptied my freezer not looking for food, but money and jewelry?” said Rene.

“Apparently people hide their most valuables jewelry and money in the freezer,” she continued.

It was only after the Police left that Mike and Rene were able to fully take in the extent of the damage to their home, as well as to collect their thoughts. The life that they had come to know as being ‘typical’ now had a new adjective to describe it: victim. With this new label, also came a storm of emotions.

Constable Karen Sinnaebe, Safety Officer for the OPP, explained that, as police, they understand the emotions that run through a victim’s mind.

“Their private space has been violated. There’s a couple of things that we can provide to these types of victims.”

“One is Project Safe Guard, a program where the OPP come into your home and make some suggestions on heightening the security. It can be as easy as just trimming your hedges or placing motion detectors in your back yard. [Also] locking your cars and the doors leading into your garage or in the garage leading to the house,” said Constable Sinnaebe.

Outside damage to the door of the McCann’s home after the break-in.

Despite the programs that the OPP offer, there are also other worrisome trends in relation to burglary

“It seems that you’re more apt to be a victim a second time by the same people because they now know the full layout of your home. That’s why we push for the visit,” explained Constable Sinnaebe.

Law enforcement uses the modern age of videos and the power of social media to their advantage, whether it’s through surveillance video from the homeowners themselves, or from their surrounding neighbours. These surveillance videos can be very useful when it comes to gathering information about burglaries.

Sinnaebe went on to stress that individuals who have video surveillance of burglaries and then post these videos online before the police have had a chance to investigate, can lead to a number of problems. Firstly, it can hinder their investigation. Furthermore, if the suspects are minor, it is against the law to put their names or the faces in the media and, can result in the video poster opening themselves up to charges. Another reason is that the police don’t know if the videos have been altered by the poster.

Allowing the Police to vet and approve the copy for release to the community is a much better plan.  Windsor Police and OPP regularly work together with on releasing these types of videos to the general public. Ironically, taking the law or the video into your own hands can have one go from being the victim to the victimizer in the eyes of the law.

Although they invested in a steel door, as well as motion sensors in their back yard, this ultimately wasn’t enough to deter the thieves that ransacked the McCann’s home. Their last hope was a neighbor whom they knew had video cameras surrounding their home.

Unfortunately, this lead didn’t go anywhere, as the neighbor was doing renovations that night, and the electrical for the house had to be shut off, including the surveillance cameras. With the fall of this lead, the McCann’s had, sadly, reached a dead end.

Melissa McCormick knows full well all the feelings that the McCann’s went through. The helplessness, the violation, the ripping apart of a life as you once knew it. Melissa herself was the victim of a heinous crime in the mid 70’s – a story that became an international news story.

A flat tire in Detroit on the expressway close to the Windsor-Detroit tunnel in those days was a usually a minor frustration and nothing more. However, for McCormick, that flat tire turned out to be much more momentous.

After a friendly man came to her aid and changed the tire, a gang of youths pulled up and abducted McCormick, holding her hostage for days while physically and sexually assaulting her.

McCormick ultimately survived this horrific incident and was not only able to identify all the suspects involved in the crime to the Detroit Police, she also led them right to the homes of the suspects.

During a year-long trial, McCormick recounted her violent ordeal to the courts and eventually, those involved in the crime were sentenced to life in prison.

She lived through the trial that took over a year, retelling her violent ordeal to the courts. In the end, all the accused were sentenced to life.

After her traumatic experience, Melissa McCormick was determined not to let any of what happened to her define who she was.

Melissa McCormick, counselor and author of The Queen’s Daughter.

McCormick credits a wealthy black business owner from Detroit who contacted her upon hearing what happened.

“Racial tensions in Detroit had been simmering since the 60’s riots and me being white and the perpetrators being black hit a nerve with him. “Said McCormick

“He came to my aid and started a trust fund that supported me through the trial as I could not work. The gentleman had grown up in an era of such hate and racism first hand seeing the violence of the KKK.”

“The two lessons that he taught me and that I pass on to others to this day is be proud of what you’ve experienced and who you are no matter what the circumstances. Stand up and never hide. Be proud of who you are and what you’ve been through because that has made you the person you are today,” recounted McCormick.

Like McCormick, the McCann’s were also looking to rebuild their lives. Three months after the burglary, a new back door is set to arrive any day, and things have gone back to a new normal. Through the chaos of moving on, Mike and Rene continue to smile. For them, feelings of violation and victimization have somewhat diminished, knowing that, after all, it could have been worse.

“I won’t let this change my life. It happened it’s over. We went through it dealt with what had to be dealt with not around it and now it’s time to move on,” said Mike McCann.


Lori Baldassi
By Lori Baldassi April 24, 2018 18:48

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