WESTCHASE — Jon Pich was on his way home with sandwiches earlier this week when he received a text message from his 15-year-old son, Slader, who was home sick:
Pich wondered: Was this a prank?
The family lives in a nice neighborhood. The house has an alarm system, but he hadn't set it. Soon, another text followed:
dont come home
A minute later:
hurry theyre taking everything
Slader, a freshman at Alonso High School, sent the texts while hiding behind a sectional sofa and an artificial plant as two men rifled through the home just before noon Monday, according to the family and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Slader was unharmed, but the Piches offer their story as a reminder to homeowners to lock their doors and be alert.
"It's easy to feel complacent and safe," said Lisa Pich, who was showing her second-grade class at Westchase Elementary School the weather on her cell phone when her son texted her. "Now we feel extremely violated."
On Monday, Slader had stayed home from school with a stomachache and a sore back from a weekend soccer game. About 11:30 a.m., his dad, a partner for a consulting firm who was working at home that day, went to Subway to grab sandwiches for lunch.
Minutes after Pich left, someone repeatedly rang the doorbell and beat on the front door. Slader continued to play video games. After about five minutes, he peeked out from behind a wall but did not recognize the man he saw through the glass in the door.
He ran upstairs to the family's media room to grab his cell phone so that he could ask his dad whether the pest control people were coming that day.
He was about to dial his dad's number when he heard the garage door open. He immediately jumped behind a sectional sofa and an artificial palm tree.
Footsteps raced up the stairs. Slader turned his phone to silent and sent the first text to his dad. He breathed as lightly as he could as a man grabbed a laptop from a desk about 4 feet away from where Slader was crouched.
"I wasn't terrified. I was just a little shocked," the 5-foot-3 teenager recalled. "I was praying he wouldn't turn around and see me."
The man took the laptop downstairs. Then Slader heard men shout instructions to each other to check all the rooms. Slader continued to text his dad. Then he heard one of the men say, "We have to go!"
Slader climbed out of a window and onto a rooftop. From there, he texted his mom. Meanwhile, Jon Pich, had arrived home to find a newer model white Dodge Charger parked in the street, its engine running.
Fearing for his son's life, he grabbed a baseball bat from the garage and ran toward the front of the house. Before he got to the front door, it swung open. Two men carrying $3,000 worth of stuff — laptops, an Xbox and a TV — looked at Pich, shocked.
They stared each other down for several seconds before Pich yelled at them to put the items down and leave peacefully.
The men ran to the car with their loot and peeled out backward for half a block so that Pich could not see their license plate number.
Pich hopped into his car and tried tailing them but lost them. Then he rushed home and found his son on the roof.
Father and son hugged before deputies arrived moments later. The Sheriff's Office sent up a helicopter but was unable to find the car, authorities said.
According to sheriff's officials, both men were between 22 to 29 years old, about 5 feet 8 inches tall and 160 pounds. One man was black and wore a black coat. The other was white, possibly Hispanic, wearing a black sweat shirt.
"Slader was very brave," Lisa Pich said. "He made every decision right that day."
Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter suggests that people call 911 immediately when anyone tries to break into a house.
"Turn on a radio, something that they can hear that would make them believe someone was in the house," Carter said. "But get the police on the phone first."
The Piches sat down and talked about the tips they'd pass along: Teach children how to use the panic button on the alarm system. Make sure visitors know someone is home. And educate children about what to do under different scenarios.
"I don't want to live in fear. I don't want my kids to live in fear," Lisa Pich said. "But we have to be smarter."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813)909-4613 or [email protected]