BROOKSVILLE — Standing outside the empty home Tuesday afternoon, Frances Greifenberger could see people moving around inside and hear the sound of glass breaking. She had already called for help but was growing more restless by the second.
Finally, worried the teens might flee before deputies got to the scene, Greifenberger decided to go inside.
"I didn't want to wait and let them get away," Greifenberger said Wednesday. "And luckily I had my gun on me."
Greifenberger, a former New York City police officer, managed to corral the three suspects — all of them age 13 — and hold them there until deputies arrived at the home, according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
The teens, who are not being identified because they are juveniles, each face burglary charges and were taken into custody. They were later released back to their parents under home detention.
Authorities said the teens caused about $40,000 of damage to the home at 13371 Linden Drive.
And they might have gotten away, if not for Greifenberger.
While washing her car in the front yard Tuesday afternoon, Greifenberger heard the sound of glass being shattered at a home only a few doors down from her own.
Greifenberger knew no one should be inside the house because it was for sale and the owners, Paul and Aimee Moon, had recently moved to Kansas.
Greifenberger decided to go check out the commotion. She went with her handgun tucked in her waistband.
"I just happened to have it on me," she said. "Our neighborhood is changing — lots of empty, vacant and abandoned homes all around me. People have even come to my house at night, checking the doors."
On her way to the home, Greifenberger noticed there were several boys inside the house and called 911. Using a metal baseball bat, a hammer and a screwdriver, the teens allegedly shattered windows and mirrors, smashed chandeliers, ripped tiles from the walls, broke a porcelain sink in the bathroom, and poked holes in the drywall throughout the home, among other damage.
"It was totally senseless," said Sgt. Donna Black, a spokeswoman with the Sheriff's Office. "It's just atrocious that they would do that."
After waiting for a bit, Greifenberger decided to enter the home through a broken sliding glass door in the back and confronted one of the teens.
She cornered the boy, forcing him into the bedroom with the other two alleged burglars. Warning the teens that she had a gun, Greifenberger made them lie down on their stomachs and spread their arms and legs.
"They were just in shock and scared to death," she said. "One was crying. I just yelled at them, told them to shut up and wait there."
When deputies arrived at the home, they found Greifenberger standing in the doorway with the boys down on the ground in the master bedroom.
Greifenberger, who works at the county jail, said her background dealing with criminals probably helped to stifle any nerves.
"I deal with inmates all the time," she said. "It doesn't faze me. It's just good to know I have it after all these years."
Black said the case highlights the importance of neighbors keeping an eye on the vacant or abandoned homes in their neighborhood. But she doesn't advise most people getting involved to the extent that Greifenberger did.
"We're just fortunate that we had a former officer and corrections officer come to offer aid," Black said. "Normally, we don't want people to take the issue into their own hands."
Greifenberger still plans to stay involved. She said she and a few other retired NYPD officers plan to clean up some of the extensive damage at the home. Her former neighbors were only days away from selling the home in a short sale. Now, that has probably fallen through.
She said the burglary comes at a particularly difficult time: Paul Moon is a military officer who is set to be deployed to Iraq in several weeks.
"He's going to Iraq to fight for our country," Greifenberger said. "So we're all going to chip in for the clean up. The least we can do is that."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.