PALM HARBOR — The alarm went off just before midnight at the Louis Edwards jewelry store.
Owner William Reed got the call from his alarm company the night of Jan. 19 saying deputies from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office were going out there to inspect. He was told he would get another call if there was anything to the alarm, but that call never came.
A deputy arrived at 11:53 p.m. and determined that, from the outside, nothing appeared to be wrong. The deputy cleared the call at 11:59 and told another deputy not to bother coming to the store at 3406 East Lake Road.
The Sheriff's Office notes from that call say no inspection was made of the inside because no one from the business came to the scene.
The next morning, however, Reed's employees showed up just before 10 a.m. to find the store had been burglarized and more than $1 million in jewelry and other items had been stolen in a matter of hours.
"I'm in a big mess," Reed said. "Seventeen years of my entire business wiped out for me in one night."
Detectives are still trying to figure out what happened, but Reed is convinced it was a professional crew.
He and the Sheriff's Office said burglar or burglars seem to have entered through the roof.
Once inside, they smashed display cases, cleaned out the back room and breached the safe.
Officials would not confirm details about how much was taken, but Reed put the figure at over $1 million.
He said the burglars used a blowtorch and a sledgehammer to crack his $7,000 or $8,000 safe. There must have been three or four of them at least, Reed added.
The items taken included store inventory and items that customers left to be repaired.
He is insured for much of it but not all and the process of tabulating the loss will be a difficult one, Reed said. He doubts any of the stolen items will be recovered.
"These were serious criminals," Reed said. "Criminals like this don't take (the items) to pawn shops."
At the moment, Reed, 45, is working to take care of customers' jewelry.
He hopes to reopen in two weeks with an upgraded alarm system and a new safe.
"I'm just overwhelmed. It's very heartbreaking to me," Reed said. "I lost both my parents 10 years ago suddenly and it's very close to that. This was my entire retirement. This is my life and it was just yanked out."
He said the hardest part has been telling customers that their belongings may never be recovered. That hurts, he said, especially when some of the customers lash out at him.
"I've been accused of lying. I've been accused that I did this to myself. I've been accused that there's more than just the monetary value, that they deserve more. I am just appalled — (after) the 17 years of service and honesty that I've given to these people, how I am treated."
Jonathan Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.