Newton County was hit by a string of car break-ins early Wednesday morning marked by an unusual level of sophistication, according to victims' accounts.
Sometime between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., thieves broke into the vehicles parked in the driveways of about six residents of a section of The Falls subdivision, stealing valuable items or rummaging around, according to Newton County Sheriff's Office reports.
Two more vehicles at nearby residences, one on Cambridge Way and another on Butler Bridge Road, were also hit the same morning, with thieves making off with over $4,000 worth of tools and electronics.
But what made these thefts stand out from the average smash-and-grab job was the level of professionalism, according to the Falls subdivision victims.
"They knew what they were doing obviously," said one victim, who had the driver's side window of her car broken but nothing taken. She described how a circle had been cut into the glass before being pushed inwards, as to not make a sound and not set off car alarms.
The thieves apparently worked so quietly that not even the residents' dogs heard a sound.
"We all have big dogs," she said. "None of the dogs barked, not a one."
Another victim, who asked to be identified only as Ms. Thompson, was astounded that the break-in occurred right outside her bedroom window, but neither she nor her dog, which "barks at a fly a mile down the road," stirred that night.
The perpetrators also worked quickly, apparently not even getting out of their cars and driving across lawns at some houses right up to the parked target vehicles, leaving tire tracks in the morning dew.
A neighbor said it seemed the thieves targeted cars with tinted windows and only took whatever was within arm's reach.
Some of the stolen items included personal navigation GPS units, purses, credit cards and guns.
One victim said she had just purchased her GPS unit the day before, and hadn't thought to write down the serial number.
Residents described their section of the subdivision as a very close-knit neighborhood where neighbors chatted frequently and watched out for each other.
"We're very tight. We're always looking out for each other. That's what we don't understand," Thompson said. "It's very disheartening because it's been so good for so long."
NCSO spokesperson Lt. Mark Mitchell said the department has increased patrols in the area during the second and third shifts, in hopes of coming across suspects or more information.
"We're looking for a break (in the case)," Mitchell said.
For now, the residents have begun posting no trespassing signs and leaving front and back porch lights on at their houses.
"It looks like an airport runway," Thompson said, with a laugh. Another resident purchased surveillance cameras and decided to install a home security system.
To help avoid becoming a target, experts recommend locking your vehicles and taking valuable items with you, or at least keeping them out of sight. To increase the chances of recovering stolen items from pawn shops, owners should write down the serial numbers of any electronics or other items with serial numbers and store that information in a safe place.
A quick digital picture or digital video of valuable items can be tremendously helpful in identifying stolen goods that don't have serial numbers, according to NCSO Lt. Bill Watterson.
Drivers should also keep track of their garage door openers, which can also give potential burglars access to homes.