By BRENDA REES
MONTECITO HEIGHTS — A staff member at the Audubon Center at Debs Park arrived for work on Saturday morning Dec. 3 to discover that the nature center had been vandalized and burglarized.
The center’s security system and siren was smashed, a glass door into the offices was broken and many items were stolen — including binoculars, spotting scopes, tripods, field guides, wildlife cameras as well as two office laptop computers, said director Marcos Trinidad.
It’s unclear how many were involved in the 4 a.m. break-in – the center’s security camera only managed to photograph one individual for a brief moment before it was smashed.
“We’ve usually had at least one break-in every winter,” says Trinidad. “The last two years, people have broken into the kitchen and stolen food. This is the first time since I’ve been here that high-end items and office equipment have been taken.”
Many of the stolen items had been donated to the center, which serves a wide variety of visitors through school programs, family-friendly activities and community bird walks, nature education and research. Among the stolen items was a pair of binoculars that took digital images used to document projects, a laptop used by volunteers, students and the community and a bag of binoculars used for community bird watching walks.
“The bag of binoculars was underneath someone’s desk because they were going to use the next day for an outing,” Trinidad explained adding that while the two laptops were taken, the three computer desktops remained.
The thief, he surmised, was quickly grabbing whatever s/he could. “I bet the person wasn’t in here more than 3 minutes.”
“We have such a high deductible that I am sure we won’t be able to make an insurance claim,” continued Trinidad who welcomed the public’s support of replacing items and supporting the center.
As of Monday afternoon, more than $3,700 had been raised.
“This is a terrible thing to happen, but we are grateful for the support we immediately received and continue to receive from the community,” explains Trinidad. “It’s really great to know that the community sees what we do as valuable enough to help us out.”
After this experience, Trinidad says that there will be additional security measures taken at night to lock up and secure equipment.
The prior weekend, the center hosted its first ever Marketplace; additionally the Christmas Bird Count at the Center is still planned for December 16.
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