"That's low, really low."
That's how South Bend Police Captain Phil Trent describes the thieves responsible for taking donation containers at five area Walmart stores. The donations would have gone to Riley Hospital for Children and the Children's Miracle Network.
The latest robbery happened Monday morning at the Walmart Supercenter on Ireland Road, but four others have occurred in the last two weeks, and it's always the same scenario.
"Somebody has a driver – they pull up, the passenger gets out, they park near the door, leave the car running,” Trent says. “The individual gets out, grabs the donation box, throws it in the car and they are gone."
Witnesses in this case described the getaway car as a red Ford Taurus with an Indiana plate and the numbers “2001” on it and some unknown letters.
Mishawaka Police are investigating a similar theft at the West Indian Ridge Walmart that happened Jan. 26. Surveillance photos show a white man with a mustache carrying a red Riley Hospital wagon with a container filled with money out of the store. Another photo shows two white females acting as customers who police say are his accomplices.
"That's just not theft, that's mean," says Lt. Tim Williams.
Mean...because the money goes to help local sick children and their families.
"It's very unfortunate that people are taking away from charities that are helping people in our own community," Williams says.
Mikie Ernsberger is a Walmart shopper and is angry about the thefts, especially because her brother received a bone marrow transplant at Riley when he was a boy. Ernsberger started to cry after finding out the donations were stolen.
"That makes me really upset because it helps people that really need it,” she said. “Because my brother needed a lot of help when he went there."
Elkhart County police say thieves took donation containers for the Children's Miracle Network from three Walmart stores last week: Stores on County Road 6, US 33 South of Goshen and Old US 20 in Osceola were hit. The suspects got away in a 2-door brown Chrysler with a partial Michigan plate of “CHY.” The bottom portion of the passenger door is white.
Police from the different agencies are planning on comparing notes and surveillance photos to see if the same suspects are involved in all the thefts. In the meantime, police are asking other stores to move any donation containers away from the entrance doors. Trent says, "put these donation boxes where they are going to be supervised."
A Walmart spokesperson told us they are working with police on ways to prevent further thefts.