Backpack burglar sweeps the Fort Branch area

Jenna Stallsmith, Managing Editor

When people imagine the location of crimes, many picture big cities. What they fail to remember, though, is that crime happens everywhere. Recently, this was apparent to senior Laney Neufelder.

On the morning of September 3, Neufelder’s backpack was nowhere to be found. When she made her way to her truck, it was evident she was the victim of a theft. Everything had been taken out of her glove box, her blanket in the backseat had been unfolded, the tackle box was open but only her backpack appeared to be missing. The new fishing pole, shoes, money and more was left behind. 

Many questions about the theft arose: What was the thief looking for? Why wouldn’t money be a priority? What value did the backpack have that other items did not?

Not only did Neufelder have to file a police report and deal with the stress of missing items but attending school was another struggle.

“I hated telling the teachers I didn’t have anything because I felt ashamed in a way,” Neufelder said. “Like, who comes to school just to tell their teachers they don’t have their homework because their backpack was stolen? When I came back from lunch, I looked at my desk and was like, ‘Did I leave it in the lunchroom?’ then I remembered that I didn’t have it in the first place.”

Neufelder isn’t the only student who has been a victim of backpack theft. Senior McKinzy Lockwood had hers stolen the night of August 20. Unlike Neufelder, Lockwood’s vehicle appeared to be untouched. Only the backpack was missing, just like Neufelder, which contained her Chromebook and AirPods.

“I gave them the serial number for the Chromebook and the AirPods that were in the backpack, so if they try to sell them, we will know who it was,” Lockwood said. “The chance of finding my stuff is minimal but the police are trying to find why these people are just taking backpacks.” 

The $300 purse and more remained in Lockwood’s possession. This is more than just a couple break ins, and there seems to be a theme: backpack snatching. 

Lockwood reported neighbor cars being robbed as well, one of which had a missing preschool backpack. The vehicle’s glove box and center console had been searched through and items were found thrown in the lawn. Police contacted neighbors and asked for security footage. 

One reasoning for this spike may be the unprecedented times. 

“We see spikes around Christmas time because packages are left in cars,” said Dan Lienemann, Gibson Southern High School’s Resource Officer. “But, you have to think about the time we are in right now with COVID. People are out of jobs, working less hours, the economy is taking a little nose dive. We need to remain vigilant. Don’t leave things visible in your car, even if it’s locked.”

Backpacks may be a target because they are an easy thing to snatch. It’s a grab and go type of crime. 

“To track this, we look at patterns,” Lienemann said. “It will typically be a local who knows the area. Of course, we will go to the neighbors and see if they have any cameras. Most importantly how we catch this is just by the civilians. We ask what they saw and if anything seemed abnormal.”

To combat this, the Fort Branch Police Department is increasing patrols in the area as well as the Gibson County Sheriff’s Department. If you have any information regarding the recent theft, please call 812-385-3496.

Until this backpack snatching bandit is caught, lock your vehicles, don’t leave important items in your cars and most importantly, stay safe.