HOULTON, Maine — Although the case is still open and police have a person of interest in the case, Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin said Tuesday that the investigation of a Christmas season theft at The Salvation Army is “at a standstill.”
“We have been hampered by a number of factors,” Asselin said of the Dec. 22 theft of toys donated to the agency that were to go to needy area children. “There is little to no security at The Salvation Army. Doors were left unlocked at the time, and there was no surveillance footage in the facility. There were also a number of people going in and out. Because of that, we don’t have a lot of information to go on.”
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. The angels list the age and gender of the child and list 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 just before they were to be delivered 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.
Pearl said the facility is a “high traffic area,” and around the time of the theft, employees and volunteers were in and out of the building all week picking up and packaging donated gifts, and parents were coming in to pick up the gifts for their children. People also were coming in to request fuel assistance and other aid.
After the theft was discovered, community members and other donors from throughout the state rallied to replace the stolen items. Because of the donations, all of the children who were in line to receive gifts found them under the tree on Christmas morning.
“We have a person of interest, but we really haven’t got all of the evidence that we need to link that person to the crime,” said Asselin. “I can’t comment further because of the case, but we believe the toys have gone south and are no longer in this area.”
Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call the Houlton Police Department at 532-2287.