Two arrested after Norfolk girl home from school reports burglary in progress

A 16-year-old Norfolk girl who stayed home from school Tuesday because she was sick put an end to a string of break-ins when she called 911 after two thieves broke in, police said.

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“Someone’s trying to break in my house,” the frightened girl told a police dispatcher as she hid in the basement. “Please help me.”

The girl called 911 from her home on Cleveland Street and stayed on the phone with the dispatcher until officers arrived, Norfolk police said.

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“She absolutely did the right thing,” said Lieutenant John Carroll. “She did a great job.”

A man and woman knocked on the front door of the house just before 1 p.m. and forced their way through the side door when they thought the home was empty, Carroll said.

“My parents are at work,” the girl told the dispatcher through tears. “They’re in my house. What do I do?”

In a dramatic recording of the call released by police, dispatcher Joseph Castellano assured the girl she would be okay as he relayed information to the officers, listened to the police radio, and took other emergency calls.

Michael Couto

“We only have one dispatcher,” Carroll said. “He did an outstanding job. He was able to keep the girl on the phone. He was able to calm and reassure her.”

On-duty officers were at the scene of an earlier robbery, but Officer Eric VanNess who was working a road detail nearby, went to the house in his personal vehicle, Carroll said.

VanNess blocked a gray 2004 Cadillac SUV in the driveway, police said.

“It’s kind of the perfect storm,” Carroll said. “It doesn’t come up often, but when it does the good guys come up with a win.”

VanNess was checking the rear of the home when he encountered a man and a woman leaving the house, police said. A pillowcase full of jewelry was found near the suspects.

VanNess held the suspects at gunpoint on a rear second-floor deck, police said.

Detective Nate Fletcher arrived at the scene, kicked in a door to get into the rear of the home, and assisted VanNess in holding the suspects until other officers arrived.

During the 911 call, Castellano asked the girl if there was a way for her to get out of the basement, but she said she wasn’t sure how to open a door leading outside.

“There’s a bulkhead, but I don’t know how to open it, and it’s loud and they don’t know I’m here,” she said.

Michael Couto, 45, of New Bedford and Chelsea Smith, 21, of Mashpee were arrested on multiple felony charges for the Cleveland Street robbery and other break-ins that also occurred Tuesday, police said.

Chelsea Smith

Couto and Smith are charged with numerous breaking and entering charges, breaking and entering while placing a person in fear, larceny, and malicious destruction, police said.

Norfolk police towed the Cadillac to the police station and could see several pillowcases, jewelry boxes, and electronic equipment inside the vehicle, police said.

Some pillowcases matched the description of those taken from Norfolk homes. Police plan on obtaining a search warrant to seize items from the vehicle.

Norfolk police were already responding to a break-in on Lafayette Lane when the girl called 911.

A resident called police at 12:19 p.m., saying she had returned home and noticed her house on Lafayette Lane had been broken into, police said.

Couto and Smith allegedly climbed into the home after they removed a screen from a first-floor rear window, police said.

The suspects allegedly stole jewelry, cash, and a laptop, police said.

The resident said she had not been gone long, indicating that the break-in had just occurred, police said.

Officers secured the home and waited for a police K-9 unit and SWAT team to arrive.

Another resident on Cleveland Street called police later in the afternoon, at 4:08 p.m., when she found her home broken into and noticed jewelry and electronic items missing, police said.

Robert Frechette, 55, has lived on Cleveland Street for 14 years and doesn’t remember there ever being a robbery in the neighborhood.

Frechette said the street doesn’t have sidewalks or streetlights and is a popular route for speeding commuters.

“Cars go really fast,” he said. “It’s not the kind of neighborhood where people walk around. To walk or even ride a bike down the street is dangerous.”

The two suspects were arraigned today in Wrentham District Court, said David Traub, spokesman for Norfolk County District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey. A plea of not guilty was entered on their behalf.

A judge set bail for Couto at $25,000 and granted a motion made by prosecutors that bail for a previous case in New Bedford District Court be revoked, Traub said.

Couto will be held at the Norfolk County House of Correction for up to 60 days because of the bail revocation, after which he will be able to post bail for the Norfolk breaking and entering charges, Traub said.

Bail for Smith was set at $5,000. Her defense counsel indicated that she would seek a bail review in Norfolk Superior Court, Traub said.

Both suspects were ordered to stay away from the victims and remain drug-free with random testing, Traub said.

Couto and Smith are scheduled for a pretrial conference on Oct. 25 in Wrentham District Court.

Norfolk Police Chief Charles H. Stone commended the officers involved in the Norfolk case and especially praised VanNess and Castellano, the statement said.

Carroll said that burglars often knock first to ensure that a home is empty.

“Don’t open the door. Yell from inside,” he said. “Then people will know someone’s home. In most cases, that’s just enough. That’ll scare them off.”

Carroll advised residents to leave the house, if possible.

“If you have a straight shot that you know you can get out of the house, get out of the house,” he said. “You want to avoid confrontation at all costs.”