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Salvation Army Of Dunkirk Vandalized, Police Seek Info

DUNKIRK — When Salvation Army staff members arrived to open their Central Avenue building on Friday morning, they knew immediately that someone else had beaten them to it.

“We came in at about 8:15 a.m. and lights were on, doors were open and cupboard doors were open,” said Major Christina Ramirez, head of the Salvation Army of Dunkirk.

The building was last in use on Thursday night for the youth basketball program. “Things were locked up and cleaned at about 10:30 on Thursday night, so some time during the night, somebody broke in,” Ramirez said.

Dunkirk Police arrived within minutes of Ramirez’s call on Friday morning. “The police aren’t sure exactly how they entered the building, but they have an idea that it may have been through a window,” said Ramirez. Indeed, while the OBSERVER newspaper was at the Salvation Army on Friday morning, a staff member found a window crank in the desk of a staff member who no longer works at the location.

“When she came in Thursday morning … she was gone within 15 minutes,” Ramirez said. “She didn’t ask to go through her desk — she’s been here a year — to take any personal stuff. The police did head over to her house after they left here.”

Nearly every room of the building, which is also the home of the Boys and Girls Club of Northern Chautauqua County, was forced into and destroyed. Closets were opened, filing cabinets were emptied and drawers were dumped. However, both Ramirez and Anneliese Bruegel, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club, noted that no equipment or electronics appeared to be stolen or damaged, other than the security camera equipment.

“The DVR system that goes with the camera system was taken, which is in a closet where the safe is where nobody has a key but me,” Ramirez said. “The doors were all propped open. There’s an app on my phone for the security cameras, and I went to check it and it’s all blank. All the shelves (that held the camera equipment) are empty.”

According to Bruegel, the building has been broken into twice before, but not to the extent of Thursday night’s damage. “Both times it was very subtle – we hadn’t noticed at all at first, until we saw a few things that were out of place and some things had been taken,” she said. “We don’t keep money in here generally, as a rule. Throughout the week, I get donations through checks, usually. I had just gone to the bank, so there was no money here to steal last night.”

While all of the offices were broken into, some spaces were virtually untouched including the chapel, the gymnasium, and the basement lounge, which houses televisions, DVDs, games, Xboxes and other electronics.

As of Friday morning, Bruegel was unable to tell if the laptops in her office had been stolen; however, she noted that her computer monitor and tower were still in the room.

“The frustrating point is that we need to be open for the children by Monday,” she said. “That’s not a service that can be easily fixed for families if we’re just closed.”

According to Bruegel, the Boys and Girls Club serves between 100 and 150 children among all their locations daily, and after school, they host up to 80 children a day at the Salvation Army. “They’re all children who have no where else to go, really,” Bruegel explained. “They need this place. Their parents need us.”

On Friday, staff members from both organizations were hard at work cleaning the mess in preparation for Monday. Ramirez said by Friday afternoon, the Salvation Army was up and running.

Bruegel and Ramirez have asked anyone with information on the break-in to contact Dunkirk Police. “This should really be looked at as a crime against the community,” said Bruegel. “If I have to close on Monday, it’s not me that they’re hurting, because I’ll be here here working and getting paid for it. It’s the kids that will pay the price.”

Anyone who may have information regarding this burglary or the Elks Club burglary, which occurred Wednesday, is encouraged to contact the Dunkirk Police Headquarters at 366-2266 or the Confidential Tip Line at 363-0313.

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