North Texas

Burglars Target Faith-Based Homeless Center

Security cameras caught the burglary on tape Saturday night

A North Texas homeless center is in disbelief and hoping for help from the community after three burglars made off with about $20,000 worth of electronics and property.

The biggest heartbreak for the faith-based organization When We Love is that the heist is not exactly a break-in, but rather it is a break out.

"It's a tough situation," said Gary Wilkerson, founder of When We Love. "It was a big blow to us."

Any time a nonprofit has to resort to surveillance video, something bad has happened.

Wilkerson could only watch hours upon hours of video, helplessly watching as thieves broke down doors to his warehouse along East Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth.

Three people, believed to be two men and a woman, scoured the warehouse for electronics, swiping items meant to help the poor and homeless.

"It was crushing," he said.

To make matters worse, when Wilkerson looked closely at the suspects, he noticed a familiar face.

"It's like being punched in the gut," he said. "There's no doubt in our minds who we're seeing in our video."

One of the burglars, Wilkerson said, was a homeless man who has volunteered at the center for seven months.

Considered a trusted worker, Wilkerson invited the man to escape the cold temperatures this week by sleeping inside the warehouse.

The center is equipped with a security system and 14 cameras.

Wilkerson said When We Love disabled the security alarm knowing the man would be inside sleeping.

"It never crossed my mind that he was not trustworthy of staying in this building for a day or two," Wilkerson said.

When We Love's security cameras captured the heist Saturday evening.

The trio worked methodically, taking their time over four hours, before hauling away a 50-inch plasma television from the lobby, several laptop and desktop computers, speakers, donated bicycles and even coffee makers.

The thieves were seen walking out of the building with the items in large black trash bags.

Wilkerson said he believed they did this so as to not stand out among other homeless individuals who live in the area.

Many of the laptops belong to case workers who help homeless individuals with resources, including finding jobs.

The warehouse is home to several different organizations that also work with the homeless community and must cover their losses as well.

"It's given, more or less, a second chance," said a homeless man who only wanted to be identified as Lee.

Lee works at the center as he tries to get on his feet again. He said he worked alongside the suspected burglar and is angry.

"Gary [Wilkerson], come on man," he said speaking directly to the burglar. 'He's a friend, man. Why would I do a friend like that?"

While trust has certainly been lost, this nonprofit's faith is steadfast.

"You can't really fault yourself for giving someone a shot," Wilkerson said. "I would tell [the burglar] I forgive him. That doesn't take away the pain at this point, but it could take away the pain later."

Fort Worth police are investigating the heist, but would not release much information given the ongoing investigation.

While the nonprofit does have insurance, Wilkerson said the deductible was simply too high.

He hoped the community would come forward with monetary or computer donations instead.

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