ELLSWORTH, Maine — High school graduations usually are memorable for the seniors who get their diplomas, and the one last Friday at the high school was no exception.
But for a handful of Ellsworth High School seniors, the reason their graduation is memorable may not be a good one. According to police, a Milbridge woman — with her 2-year-old son in tow — rifled through their purses and allegedly stole several items while the students were participating in their graduation ceremony down the hall, Ellsworth Police Chief John DeLeo said Thursday.
As a result, DeLeo said, Erica Atcherson, 35, has been charged with Class C theft, which is punishable by up to five years in jail and a fine up of to $5,000. She is facing a felony charge because she has a prior theft conviction and is believed to be out on bail for a theft arrest in Washington County, he said.
Police think all of the items that Atcherson is alleged to have taken have been recovered, according to the chief.
Atcherson initially drew attention to herself before the evening ceremony by arriving at the high school in a low-cut, overly revealing blouse, according to DeLeo.
Two school staff members who were in the cafeteria, where students had left their belongings while the ceremony was going on in the gymnasium, saw Atcherson allegedly going through the purses and contacted police after she left through a back door, he said.
“She decided to avail herself of several pocketbooks,” the chief said.
Recognizing the description, police went to the nearby Mill Mall where an officer had seen Atcherson parking her car a few minutes before the ceremony, DeLeo said. Police spotted her walking away from a garbage bin near the mall and stopped her, he said.
In the bin were two of the stolen purses, and Atcherson was found with $381 in cash, according to the chief. Among the items Atcherson is accused of taking from the school are pens, driver’s licenses, gift cards, bluejeans, a sweat shirt, a digital camera, flip-flops, a jacket, a cell phone and an iPod, he said. The estimated value of the items was $1,015.
“She told [the arresting officer] she thought it was her daughter’s purse,” DeLeo said. He added that he did not know whether Atcherson actually has a daughter attending Ellsworth High School.
He said Atcherson might have been attending the event with her boyfriend.
DeLeo said six known victims have accounted for all of their missing possessions and that, as far as police know, there are no missing items yet to be found. He said police also recovered a necklace and earrings but they do not know who owns the jewelry.
“There may be more than six victims,” DeLeo said.
Both DeLeo and a corrections officer at Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth said Thursday that Atcherson has since been released on bail.