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Surveillance camera captures burglary at McGough Nature Park

LARGO — The two thieves came to the nature park sometime after dark.

Dressed head to toe in black, they wore ski masks to hide their identities while they ate food meant for summer campers and used bows they found to shoot arrows.

And when they left, they grabbed a box they thought contained surveillance video of their actions.

But it didn't. Instead, they left behind two hours of camera footage of their antics at McGough Nature Park on July 22.

It was the fourth time the nature center at the park had been broken into since early June. Twice, windows were broken to get in. Door locks were smashed, money from the turtle food dispenser was stolen, a safe was broken into and fossils and shark teeth were taken.

Police have already arrested one suspect in the July 22 case — a 17-year-old boy who lives near the park. They're still looking for a 22-year-old man with a criminal record who is believed to be involved.

Largo parks superintendent Greg Brown said the duo did about $2,500 in damage to doors and windows.

"And they've probably taken less than $500 in stuff," he said.

In response to the rash of burglaries, the Friends of the Largo Nature Parks — a group of volunteers created to support the city's nature parks — gave about $850 to pay for half of the surveillance camera system, which has excellent resolution, Brown said.

Two days after the system was put in, the last burglary took place. Officers spoke to nearby residents who said the 17-year-old might be involved, said Largo police spokesman Lt. Mike Loux.

Officers went to interview the teenager.

"As soon as the officer pulled the pictures out, the kid confessed to everything," Brown said.

He was charged with burglary.

Brown said it's not clear whether the spree is connected to the disappearance of JR, a great horned owl that lived at the park but was let loose when his cage was cut open in January.

"We're definitely looking at that," Loux said.

Brown said JR was seen around the park for several weeks afterward, but the only sign of him lately is a feather recently found at the park.

Loux said detectives are also investigating whether the same two people were involved in all four burglaries.

The city has also installed an alarm system and the Friends will pay the monthly monitoring fee, said Pat Edmond, Friends president.

Edmond said the break-ins had put volunteers and campers' parents on edge.

"It's really creepy and it's so sad because we have so little to begin with," she said. "We're not a major revenue generator."

None of the stolen items has been recovered, said Loux.

Brown said he was most dismayed the thieves took a digital camera and a disc containing six weeks' worth of summer camp photos. Each camper is supposed to get a disc as a remembrance at the end of camp.

"I'm hoping to get that back for the kids," he said.

Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4157 or farlow@sptimes.com.

Surveillance camera captures burglary at McGough Nature Park 08/09/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 4:53pm]
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