While thousands sought shelter away from the effects of Hurricane Matthew, some who chose to remain in Charleston took advantage of the opportunity presented by the mass evacuation. Calls regarding empty homes being burglarized during the storm began to roll in as early as Thursday, according to numerous incident reports filed with the Charleston Police Department. What follows are accounts of attempted and alleged burglaries taken from throughout the city, as reported by witnesses, homeowners, and officers on patrol.
On Thursday, a man called police after noticing the back door to his neighbor's home was open. At first glance, he assumed that the homeowners were simply in and out while preparing to evacuate. But after seeing that the door remained open later in the day, he knew something was wrong. Inside, police found that the home had likely been broken into and among the items reported missing were a 9mm pistol and a television. Also that day, police were called south of Broad Street after a man realized that his generator had gone missing from his car, which was parked in the driveway. These alleged thefts were just the beginning as city police worked to protect homes and businesses throughout the city.
During the early hours of Friday, officers began responding to scene after scene of alleged burglaries all across the city. In one incident report, an officer questioning individuals found sitting in an idling car near Hampton Park wrote, "It should be noted there has been an increase in property crime over the last several days in the area and many houses are boarded up and unoccupied due to the mandatory evacuation ordered by the governor of this state pending a hurricane."
Just after midnight, a Mazyck-Wraggborough resident was awoken by the sound of shattering glass. Rushing downstairs, he found his living-room window had been broken with a rock. After running into the kitchen, he says he could make out the shadow of a figure standing behind his home. The suspect threw a ceramic flowerpot toward a window, causing it to shatter, before fleeing on foot.
Around 3:30 a.m., a West Ashley man told officers that he was asleep on his couch when he awoke to find a man sneaking through his living room. According to the man, he witnessed the intruder remove some money from his wallet before escaping through a kitchen window. As the man told officers what he had seen, a neighbor approached, claiming that her apartment had also been burglarized.
Less than 15 minutes later on the same side of town, officers responded to reports of another possible break-in. Arriving on the scene, police were told by neighbors that the residents had evacuated their apartment. An officer found the front door unlocked, and while clearing the home, noticed that a window A/C unit was lying on the floor. The bedrooms were in disarray. One of the residents was contacted, saying there should be a television in the living room. According to the officer, it was gone.
Just a street over, someone reported seeing a broken window at a nearby residence. Witnesses were unsure who lived there, but no one was home due to the evacuation. On the scene, police found the front door open and computers were said to be missing from the bedroom. At the back entrance of the home, the door handle had been broken off and left dangling. Elsewhere in West Ashley, someone broke into a convenience store. Inside, police found a hammer believed to be left behind by the burglar and a trail of cigarettes leading from the store.
As daylight came, police learned that someone had broken into a James Island home, stealing seven firearms, computers, televisions, and jewelry. The family that lives in the home told police that they had evacuated to a nearby hotel. Before the worst of the storm hit, a member of the family stopped back by their home to pick up a few items and realized that a sandbag that had been stacked against the front door had been moved. During their walkthrough, police were able to determine that the suspect may have first attempted to break in through a window before kicking in the back door to the home. In the master bedroom, an axe had been used to open a safe. A burglar is even believed to have relieved his or herself in the master bathroom before leaving — and neglecting to flush.
Just before noon, police learned that another empty home on James Island had been invaded. This time, the alleged thieves are said to have forced the front door open before taking a television and a wedding dress. Some James Island evacuees fared better than others. One homeowner asked their neighbors to check on their place after they received notice about their security alarm being sounded. The rear door to the home was found shattered, but no items were believed to be missing. On that same street, a woman out walking noticed the back door to another empty home broken open. Nothing is believed to have been taken.
At the Charleston Marina, several boat batteries went missing Friday, while on the East Side the rear passenger window of a car was shattered. A tablet, smart phone, and watch were said to have been taken from the vehicle, and a black leather glove was left behind. As Friday came to an end, the winds and rain began to become more violent as Hurricane Matthew neared. Unfortunately, the storm was not enough to deter some thieves.
Around 1:30 a.m., a couple was awoken in their downtown home by the sound of breaking glass. From their window, they saw an intruder enter a neighboring apartment. Police found blood left behind on a door knob and papers scattered on a desk. According to an incident report, a female suspect was apprehended nearby. Another downtown resident later reported that he was sitting on his couch, watching TV, when he heard a knock at the door. Before he could answer, a sandbag came crashing through his living room window. While this individual was home during the storm, numerous evacuees returned to Charleston to find their property damaged.
The East Side appeared to be the hardest hit, with at least four additional burglaries reported by Sunday. One home under renovation was found to be missing an oven, as a few members of the neighborhood returned home to find sheets of plywood pulled from doorways and broken windows. In the area of West Ashley that saw the most criminal activity during the storm, a man said a set of car keys was missing from inside his home and his vehicle was no longer where he left it.
South of Broad, a resident came back home to find a discarded rifle lying on her porch and muddy shoe prints leading into the home. Nearby, another resident told police that cash was missing from her home and her child's piggy bank had been emptied. Finally, the storm was gone, but in its wake Hurricane Matthew left behind more than just flooded streets and fallen trees.