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1/7/2013 2:54:00 PM
Police seeking school computer bandit
St. Clare School photos
Images of suspect in computer thefts. He was seen on camera at St. Clare School.
St. Clare School photos
Images of suspect in computer thefts. He was seen on camera at St. Clare School.
Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

A thief posing as a parent has been entering elementary schools in Portland and stealing electronic gear, including three Macbook laptop computers and two iPads from St. John the Baptist School in Milwaukie.

The Portland Police Bureau is asking for the public's help in identifying the man, who is white, in his mid-20s to early 30s, approximately 5-feet-10-inches tall and 160 pounds.

Last month, security cameras at St. Clare School in Southwest Portland caught images of the man, who apparently was scoping the premises but did not take anything.

The burglar enters classrooms and steals laptops, tablets and other electronic devices. Investigators think he has stolen from Winterhaven School, Llewellyn School and Sunnyside Environmental School, in addition to St. John the Baptist.

St. John the Baptist has not been able to recover the equipment, valued at about $4,000. The losses could have been worse; the school was one of the first in the Northwest at which every student received an iPad or iPod for academic work. There are about 300 devices in play on the campus.

Ted Havens, principal at St. John the Baptist, has seen students' math computation test scores rise as a result. Even though the school became a target for theft, the purchases have been worth it, Havens says. Insurance covered the losses after at $500 deductible.  

The Milwaukie theft occurred not long before a shooting at nearby Clackamas Town Center Mall followed by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, where a gunman shot 26 people, including 20 first graders. The events prompted Havens to bolster security at St. John the Baptist.

"It's given us a wakeup call," Havens says. "Anything we can do to keep this from happening, we will will do."

Staff and faculty have always completely locked the school during class time. But at dismissal, one door stayed ajar and teachers sometimes left classroom doors unlocked. No more. Doors are locked all the time and Havens has tripled the number of security cameras on campus. A retired policeman visited St. John the Baptist, making suggestions and giving instruction regarding lockdown drills.  

While in St. John the Baptist, the thief mistakenly left behind a stack of pamphlets from other schools he had visited, including St. Clare. Officials at St. Clare School prefer not to comment.

The day after items were stolen at St. John the Baptist, near dismissal time, Havens saw a stranger outside gazing at the school. The principal called police and went out to speak with the man, who fit the description of the thief. Milwaukie Police arrived and interviewed the visitor, who claimed he wanted to ask the school if he could hang Christmas lights on the schoolyard trees. Police found no legal reason to detain the man, so let him go.  

Crime Stoppers is offering a cash reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads to an arrest in the case. Those who give tips can remain anonymous. Leave a Crime Stoppers tip online at www.crimestoppersoforegon.com, text CRIMES (274637) and in the subject line put 823HELP, followed by your tip, or call 503-823-HELP (4357) and leave tip information.

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