'Grinches' try to steal the show by looting local community theater

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) A Christmas Grinch has put a local non-profit in a pinch.

Waco Civic Theatre Executive Director Eric Shephard examines the safe stolen out of his office, one of the many items damaged or taken during the break-in early Tuesday morning. (Photo by Clint Webb)

Officials have been scrambling since the Waco Civic Theatre was burglarized Tuesday morning--the day before the start of a two-week run of Christmas shows.

"They were heartless," said Eric Shephard, Executive Director of the Waco Civic Theatre.

Camera wires were tripped before 2:30 a.m., Shephard says, but these Grinches avoided being caught stealing from the community theater.

"This person(s) came on Giving Tuesday...and they gave us a hard time," he said.

Shephard says it wasn't the Christmas gift they wanted or expected.

"We felt surprised that we would be a target," he said. "But the locksmith was telling me that lots of people do get hit this time of year, and so you want to be careful--I just didn't think that we were one of those that would be hit."

The burglars broke-in through the back of the building: the only spot without cameras, and the only door that--until Thursday--still had a knob.

About $5,000 worth of property was stolen or damaged.

"They broke-in and stole some sound equipment, quite a bit of it actually, kind of vandalized the place, went through our costumes and tools and staged a bunch of the stuff at the back door, and then were able to make away with a couple thousand dollars worth of equipment, and did probably another couple thousand dollars worth of damage," said Shephard.

He believes it was more than one person, as a 150lb safe was removed from his office which was pried open.

"It looks like they used a hammer and crowbar to break into it, you can see where they messed it up and smashed it," said Shephard.

He says they got away with about $300 cash but left checks, debit cards, and the safe itself there.

"Not very smart, but really determined," he said of the thieves.

Determined enough to climb into the rafters and, breaking amplifiers along the way, stole the audio visual system including cameras, headsets, microphones and even their assisted listening system for people who want to enjoy the shows but can't hear.

"It feels sad in a way that they would pick on a community theater, especially during Christmas," said Shephard.

Some of the crimes were committed with the theater's own tools.

"They found a pair of bolt cutters in our tool room," said Shephard.

They believe the thieves were inside for a while, long enough to get hungry; Shephard says they broke into their candy cabinet where concessions are stored.

"They cut the lock off of it and they stole Snickers, and 3 Musketeers, and Gardetto's," he said. "I guess thieving is hard work."

Unfortunately, the thieves didn't leave a big enough trail of crumbs behind: Shephard says they don't know who did it, but Waco PD is investigating and an insurance claim has been filed.

"We have so many people who come in-and-out of here, we're a public building, and we want everyone to feel wonderful here," said Shephard.
"But it's possible it's a former cast member or clever audience member who paid attention."

They hope it wasn't an inside job, but Shephard says they're taking every precaution and have re-keyed the entire building, changed all the passwords, fixed two doors, and upgraded the security system.

"We've added three more cameras and a recording system to catch folks at now six points in the building instead of just two," said Shephard.

They also repaired what they could of the sound equipment, just in time for opening night of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" Thursday night.

"They had about 24-hours to turn things around for us, and so our sound guys, our IT guys, the locksmith--they've been great, they really helped us," said Shephard. "I don't know if it's a Christmas miracle, but it's awfully good."

He says the audience won't notice a huge difference, but since their microphones and headsets were stolen, the actors are having to rely on overhead microphones that hang from the ceiling, for the time being.

"The show must go on, and it did, and it has, and this is a really resilient organization," said Shephard. "Our volunteers, our actors, and our technicians and designers and directors--they're fantastic people, even though it was a little scary and they felt a little violated, too, they just pitched-in and made this thing happen."