Despite a rash of more than 100 homes hit by holiday decor vandalism and destruction, local residents are not taking the crimes lightly or sitting on their heels for the next attack.
Starting in mid-December, what is believed to be a pair of youths, driving a late model white SUV believed to be a white GMC Jimmy would drive through FishHawk Ranch and surrounding communities, hop out of their vehicle between 9 p.m.-2 a.m. and slash holiday blow up characters and take a baseball bat to other ornaments. In addition, several residents simply lost holiday yard decor which would sometimes end up on other resident lawns.
The crimes were not isolated in FishHawk Ranch, but FishHawk did seem to be the majority of the attacks.
In several instances, families who were attacked would replace lost decor only to be attacked a second time.
Multiple residents have caught the attackers on home surveillance cameras and posted the videos online on YouTube. But so far, license plates numbers or clear facial views have not been seen.
In FishHawk Ranch, resident and mom Michelle Estrada had already started a popular resident Facebook Page, FishHawk Peeps.
“FishHawk Peeps started after my neighbor’s house got robbed and I was putting together a list of people that I knew in Merlin Glen,” explains Estrada. She called her list FishHawk Peeps and soon neighbors were inviting friends and other residents of FishHawk to join and now the page has more than 1,100 members, all approved as residents.
“We were just trying to help our neighbors get the word out about the people who broke into their house,” said Estrada. “And, within a couple weeks, we had 700 members and kept growing.”
“The main goal is that if anyone in the neighborhood is noticing something not right, suspicious or something that can help somebody else get out of danger or harm’s way, we can come together as a community.”
The results of that initial effort were positive and due to the surveillance video from the summer, the robbers were caught.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Detective James Howell met with about 20 residents at Osprey Club regarding the current vandalism and encouraged residents to continue to be the, “eyes and ears of the Sheriff’s Office. On the surface, these crimes are relatively minor but in total, when you see the extent of the damage, it becomes a more major issue and we would love to get a tag number and description of these individuals.”
“Typically, we have some damage to decorations in FishHawk each year,” he describes. “Oftentimes, people will find their decorations rearranged or will find different decorations in their yard, but this year, there seems to be a different dynamic.”
What started the current momentum, the summer robbery, where the homeowner had surveillance video that was distributed through YouTube and on TBO.com, led to the ultimate arrest of the criminals. “When the video was distributed on TBO.com,” explains Howell, “a St. Petersburg resident recognized one of the individuals and contacted the Sheriff’s Office. Because of the evidence and the surveillance video, we were able to make three arrests in that case and recover some of the stolen property.”
For the current acts of vandalism, FishHawk residents should continue to keep an eye out in the neighborhood for suspicious activity and to keep the Sheriff’s Office informed.
Anyone with information should call the non-emergency number 247-8000 and reference case number 11-630802. Residents are encouraged to report all damage, no matter how small.
Picture Caption: Multiple residents have caught the vandals on surveillance video but no one has identified the attackers who have vandalized holiday decorations at more than 100 homes in Lithia.