HOULTON, Maine — Even though community members and charitable organizations from other parts of the state rallied to help The Salvation Army replace Christmas toys that were stolen from gift bags intended for needy children, the brazen theft remains on the minds of residents.
Approximately a week after the theft, the Houlton Police Department has persons of interest in the case but thus far has made no arrests, Chief Butch Asselin said Thursday.
“It is still very much an ongoing investigation,” he said. “We know that it was a daytime event and it was done by someone who had easy access to the facility that day, so that narrows down the case a bit. It is just a matter of going through the list of people who had such access and narrowing it down until we find the person or persons we believe to be responsible.”
Located on Court Street, The Salvation Army provides multiple services for area residents throughout the year, including fuel and clothing assistance, and help at Christmas. That help extends to soliciting donated gifts to provide to area children who otherwise might wake up to few or no gifts under the tree.
Each year, the Houlton center sets up trees at a number of stores that are decorated with paper angels. On the angels are written the age and gender of the child and an item the child wants for Christmas. Donors can take a paper angel, buy the gift and drop it off at The Salvation Army.
The gifts were being collected and stored in a large room at the Court Street location. Most of the gifts were stacked on tables, but some had been packaged in gift bags and tagged to go to the children who requested them.
Maj. Hermas Pearl was double-checking the gift bags on Wednesday of last week when she realized that some of the items that previously had been in the bags were missing. She soon discovered that additional items, including jewelry, toiletries, cosmetic bags and cosmetics, dolls and video games also were gone.
She immediately called the Houlton Police Department and reported the theft.
Officer Stewart Kennedy responded. He said he had identified two “persons of interest” in the case and had gathered some evidence.
Asselin said Thursday that he could not comment on the persons of interest or the evidence collected.
Shortly after the theft was discovered and news reached the community, donors began working to replace some of the stolen items. Not all of the items were replaced in time, according to officials with The Salvation Army, but all of the children who requested gifts got them.
Some of the replaced toys came from community residents, and Toys for Tots in Bangor sent up a police cruiser full of toys.
Both Pearl and Asselin acknowledged that a number of people had access to the toy room at the Court Street facility.
Employees and volunteers were in and out of the building throughout last week picking up and packaging donated gifts, and parents were coming in to pick up the gifts for their children. People also came in to request fuel assistance and other aid. Pearl said she was heavily involved in preparing the gifts but was not in the room all of the time, as she was in and out collecting the red kettles that are set up during the holiday season to solicit donations and performing other tasks.
Asselin said police are working closely with The Salvation Army.
“We very much want to catch the person who stole these toys from these needy children,” he said Thursday. “It remains an ongoing investigation.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the Police Department at 532-2287 or the anonymous tip line at 694-3545. People also may e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org