Brutal home invasions, burglaries and the court cases that follow are prominent features of nightly newscasts. But what happens to the victims of these terrible crimes in the months, or even years, after the dust settles?
Part I: The tale of two sisters
To get a better sense of how home invasions can traumatize victims, NewsCenter 16 sat down with two sisters who experienced first hand the terror of having their home broken into. They say their lives have been changed forever, the biggest difference being an overall lost sense of security.
Jasmine and Tikvah Cataldo were victims of what became referred to as the “boogeyman break in” of the summer of 2012. The reference stemmed from Jasmine’s victim impact statement in which she referred to the act as “the stuff of nightmares.”
Four men entered their Elkhart home under the cover of darkness. They then threatened, confined and robbed them.
It all transpired after midnight. Jasmine spent the day and much of the evening hours cleaning her house from top to bottom. Her older home had no central air conditioning and in the middle of July Jasmine said the house was over 90 degrees.
“I had box fans in the bedrooms to circulate the cold outside air,” she also left several windows open.
Jasmine called it a “regrettable” mistake to leave a downstairs window open after going to bed. However, prior to that night she never had any experience with burglars.
Her three-year-old son was sleeping soundly beside her when around 1:15 a.m. something unusual happened, her door opened.
“I’m staring at a person that does not fit in my house,” said Jasmine. She describes the moments immediately afterwards as a slowly spinning wheel, it felt like minutes as Jasmine wracked her brain to justify why someone was standing in her doorway.
She couldn’t think of a reason.
“I’m staring between the barrel of his gun and his eyes, trying to make sense of it” Jasmine added. Two more men appeared at the doorway to her second-floor bedroom. Bandanas covered the lower half of the trio’s faces and hooded sweatshirts were pulled on top of their heads.
“When there are three people at the door you realize it’s going to be much harder to negotiate because you are totally outnumbered,” Jasmine explained the men demanded to know where her purse was and took her smartphone out of her hands.
Jasmine said she was able to take a few steps into the hallway before the intruders quote “pile (drove) me to the floor, sublimated me to my knees, one of them put a gun to the back of my head, the other one put a knee to my back.” He hands were tied with the cord of a hairdryer and some sort of sweater was put over her face so she couldn’t see.
The burglars kept asking her where all of her valuables were. Jasmine explains it as they wanted her to take them on a verbal tour of her home to point out where everything was.
The home invasion took an even more serious turn when the single barrel on the back of her head became two.
“What he said was, teach this bitch a lesson,” moments later Jasmine said she heard a “trigger click” and a “pop” at the back of her head.
At that point she realized negotiation wasn’t going to get her anywhere. But what she hadn’t realized was that down the hall from where Jasmine was bound, the intruders had waked her sister and nephew up.
One of the armed men entered Tikvah Cataldo’s bedroom, armed, and demanded they hand over whatever valuables and electronics they had.
Tikvah said she handed the man a Wii, but after looking in his eyes, she said she had a feeling he wasn’t satisfied with the child’s video game.
“I pushed him back into the doorway and started slamming the door on his arm, which still had the gun pointed into the room,” Tikvah explained. That individual kept the gun in his hand the entire time Tikvah was slamming the door, but he never fired.
The sisters believe the escalating noise and Tikvah’s surprising bold stance finally caused their attackers to leave. Jasmine was finally able to stand up and said she was overrun by anger.
When police arrived Jasmine explained they had her cell phone and that they could track the locator in the phone to find the men who broke into her house. In less than an hour police pulled over a car and arrested four men in connection with the break in.
Even though the intruders were arrested the sisters say they don’t fully have a sense of peace. Geographical triggers in the house, like the hallway where Jasmine was bound and a “certain kind of light after dusk” flash Jasmine back to the night of the break in.
The acuteness of their anxiety has decreased as each month passes, however, the sisters say that they have been “re-wired” in how they think and act.
PART II: Ways to cope
It can take counseling and sometimes medication to help victims lessen their anxiety after a traumatic experience.
Psychological triggers, like locations, images and sounds take victims back to the moment of the trauma.
Jasmine Cataldo said the triggers were initially set off by geographic locations inside her home. She would freeze up and feel as if she were reliving the night when she was confined and robbed.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 7.7 million adults in the United States battle Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Despite PTSD’s common association with military service, Jasmine is an example of how a single traumatic incident can have an equally devastating psychological effect.
“That soothing, nurturing side of me, I can’t access it when I am having an axiety attack” Jasmine explained, “it’s unaccessible, it’s paralyzed. Once I process it I can plug back into that maternal role.”
Because Jasmine and her sister Tikvah’s home invasion took place in the middle of the night, darkness often leads to hyper vigilance and an inability to sleep.
Tikvah said she suffered from panic and rage attacks in the immediate aftermath of the home invasion. She said she was unable to really leave her house for about a month.
“I couldn’t sleep at night, I wouldn’t go to bed until 7:00 in the morning,” Tikvah said. Her son, who was in the room with her during the robbery, he has frequent nightmares and difficulty sleeping.
There’s also a noticeable ripple effect of crime to those who know victims.
Beth Beaty’s mother was killed during a home invasion in 2012. After the last of the intruders was sentenced, Beaty said she isn’t the same since her mother’s death.
“Every little noise at night puts a panic in you, it puts fear in you,” Beaty added, “it’s been a year and it isn’t any better, I don’t feel any better, I miss my mother just as much as I ever did.”
So where do victims turn for assistance after a crime?
Deputy Prosecutor for the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office, Joel Williams, oversees victims’ services.
In the last quarter of 2013, victims’ services kept contact with more than 1,100 victims and provided more than 3,000 services.
“Victims initially describe it as they can’t breath, they can’t eat, sleep, think straight because they never expected something to happen to them—that they’d be a victim,” Joel explained victims are pointed towards the prosecutor’s office for finding counseling and preparing for court cases.
Victim services directed Jasmine and Tikvah Cataldo to therapists specializing in trauma. They’re now taking medication for anxiety and help sleeping, which they say has helped to an extent.
Part III: Legal Repercussions
When a home invasion, burglary or violent crime is committed, police presence follows shortly thereafter. The spectrum of punishment varies depending on whether or not the intruders were armed and whether or not they took anything or caused bodily harm.
“People who don’t think burglaries or home invasions are that big a deal, perhaps they’ve never been the victim of one,” said Elkhart County Prosecutor, Curtis Hill.
Hill has seen a number of home invasion and burglary cases pass through Circuit Court. The ones doing the breaking and entering have been charged with multiples counts of burglary, robbery and criminal confinement. Depending on the case and defendant, sentences for the offenses may be upwards of 20 years.
“I think there needs to be sufficient consequences for these types of acts. Certainly for the types of people who commit these offenses and for those considering committing those offenses so they understand, there will be significant repercussions for this conduct,” Hill explained.
Cpt. Jim Bradberry of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s department said there is a line of distinction between burglary and robbery, but one thing is clear, “I think we can all say that we wouldn’t want somebody that was a stranger to just break into our home to take things that we work hard to have. We value things, some things can’t be replaced.”
Each time a defendant appears in court for a hearing or is moved from location to location, the victims receive a notification.
Jasmine and Tikvah Cataldo said they’ve compartmentalized memories of the home invasion for the most part, but every time they received a letter from the prosecutor’s office the memories would flood back.
“It’s draining, you have the nightmares, the flashbacks, the panic attacks where you have the elevated heart rates and sweaty palms,” Jasmine described, “it’s very disruptive. Your peace and your concentration and your memory…it sucks all the energy out of what is supposed to be your family, your work, your daily routine…all that has to wait.”
The four young men who broke into Jasmine and Tikvah’s home ultimately pled guilty in Elkhart Superior Court.
Tikvah Cataldo said she had some difficulty accepting the sentences for Creel, Hogan, Nichols and Parker, “it broke my heart to sit in that courtroom and see how young they were,” Tikvah said. However, the length of their sentences means Tikvah’s child will be an adult by the time they’re out of jail.
Jasmine on the other hand said she has a hard time forgiving them, “I have a hard time forgiving them, trusting them in the future, I do not believe we were their first, I believe we were their last for now.”
The sisters prepared victim impact statements for the plea hearings and sentencing of Creel, Hogan, Nichols and Parker. Tikvah’s son also wrote a statement, he wasn’t even ten years old. The handwritten statement said he wanted to scream at them, he wanted to fight, but he was afraid he was going to get killed so he couldn’t.
The home invasion changed their lives. Others who have experienced similar crimes say their lives are different. The intruders may be different, the house may be different, but an altered sense of safety is the common denominator of these crimes.