POMPANO BEACH, Fla. -- All five children were home alone when burglars smashed windows and crept inside. One suspect wielded a knife; another feigned being armed with a gun.
The break-ins occurred in three different homes — in Pompano Beach, Hollywood and Davie — all in just six days. All suspects were caught and charged with crimes.
Davie Police Capt. Dale Engle said these kinds of home-invasion robberies appear to be a new trend.
"I don't remember this occurring last year or in years past but as the economy gets worse, I mean, these criminals are becoming more and more brazen," Engle said.
The most recent case happened in Davie when a 30-year-old man shattered a back bedroom window Wednesday, slipped into the home and tied up two boys with plastic tubing, police said.
Loufkens Bredy, of Miami, was charged with home invasion with a firearm and kidnapping and Thursday a judge ordered him held in the Broward County Jail without bail. He offered investigators a taped confession.
As in last week's cases with other child victims, the burglary suspect was faced with young occupants in a home he may have thought was an empty target.
The home invasion occurred about 1:43 p.m. in the 7800 block of Silverado Court in Davie while brothers Wesley Chau, 15, and Kelvin Chau, 12, slept in their bedrooms.
Bredy, who used a red bandanna to conceal his face, discovered Wesley Chau and ordered him to get duct tape. According to a police report, the suspect followed the teen to the garage, grew impatient when he couldn't find tape and tied his hands behind his back with the rubber tubing instead.
"It was nerve-wracking," Wesley Chau said. "He was very nervous that we were home, actually, [because] he thought it would be an empty house."
Bredy then led him to the bathroom and forced him to lie on the floor while threatening to grab his gun, the police report said.
He then ordered Kelvin Chau to remove his brother's Xbox video game console, also under threat of a firearm, Broward Judge John Hurley said during Bredy's first appearance hearing Thursday.
Meanwhile, an alert neighbor noticed a 2006 blue Pontiac parked in the driveway, took a photo of the vehicle's tag and knocked on the door, Hurley said.
Bredy sent Kelvin Chau to answer the door and he seized the opportunity to get help and told the neighbor they were being "robbed," police said.
That's when Bredy ran off, taking a cell phone, $63 and an iPod, police said. The boys were uninjured.
Investigators were able to track down and arrest Bredy about five hours later in Miami-Dade.
Similarly, on June 21, Alexis Stannis, 13, dialed 911 when three teens broke into her Pompano Beach home while she was alone with her 10-year-old brother. The siblings hid inside a closet in a locked bedroom.
The suspects, who knocked on the door and got no answer, broke in through a window. TheBroward Sheriff's Officewas able to find the suspects and charged them with armed robbery of a dwelling and grand theft.
That same day in Hollywood, Luis Gutierrez, 11, was watching TV in his living room when he saw a hammer shatter his kitchen window. He was home alone while his parents went for dinner to a nearby Pollo Tropical.
The boy dialed 911 and hid with his dog, Cookie, while help arrived. Three juveniles were arrested in that case.
"Break-ins, I hate to say, are rather easy to commit," Engle said. "Especially when people work, you drive through a neighborhood and you find three or four houses in a row that have no cars and you knock on the door and if no one answers, it's an easy target."
Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti calls it a new method of operation for criminals. They sometimes pose as lost travelers or utility workers if someone does answer the door.
"Times are changed. We used to tell them, 'Don't answer the door for strangers,'" Lamberti said, "We can't do that anymore. We have to give our kids a new message now."
Occupants need to announce their presence and disinterest in the unsolicited visitor and even say they are calling 911 if a suspicious person persists, he said. Children should indicate that their parents are busy behind the safety of a closed door.
The Chaus have a home security system but Wesley Chau said it wasn't activated because he and his brother were at home.
Oscar Moreau, 31, lives across the street from the Chaus. He has a 3-year-old daughter and said it may be time to enhance his own home security.
"They were only kids. That's scary," he said. "I was thinking about [getting security] cameras and then I thought I don't need them but now it's a good idea to have them, for everybody in the neighborhood."
With summer in full swing, more children are home alone — but also more kids may be getting into trouble. In two of these cases, the suspects — along with the victims — were also juveniles.
"We have seen a spike in residential burglaries. Is it the economy? Is it the kids out for summer? It's probably both," Lamberti said.