The Bakers’ house sits enticingly at the end of a dark street, only a few feet away from the deeply forested Vale Cemetery. Across the street, there’s just a row of cars in a parking lot. Behind the house is a nice, safe expanse of empty lawn, followed by another backyard.
Despite the isolation at the end of a dimly-lit street, the house had stood unmolested for 12 years. But this November, someone could not resist the opportunity that darkness and empty space provides.
First, they hit the siding with paintballs, showering 25 to 30 balls on the house from a hiding spot within the cemetery.
Inside the house, Vietnam War veteran Stephen Baker shuddered.
It sounded like gunfire, he recalled. It was as if his house was under fire.
“I spent a year in Vietnam. I was never this scared,” Baker said.
Until that moment, he said, he always thought of his house as an unassailable place of safety.
But he tried to calm down. The house was covered in paint, but there was just one hole in the siding.
For fifteen days, nothing happened. He relaxed.
Then on Dec. 4, they struck again. This time, they brought BB guns.
“It was like boom, boom, boom, just like the house was being attacked,” Baker said.
One window was shattered. He called police. The shooters fled.
But they were back the next morning at 2:30 a.m. This time, they aimed for the upper-story windows, where the Bakers slept.
But Stephen Baker doesn’t back down in a fight. He installed industrial-strength lights around the house, shining into the cemetery. That, he thought, would surely deter the vandals.
Before he could finish the work, BBs smashed through his windows. He grimly set up the lights. Then he lost another window.
“He’s sitting at the computer and they hit the window right next to him,” his wife Regina said. “I’m on the phone with police and he’s saying, ‘I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!’ ”
She thought he was having a heart attack. He’d had a stroke this summer and had to take early retirement. He also has an internal defibrillator. Paramedics raced to his house while police fanned out, searching for the perpetrators.
It was too late. They were gone.
Baker recovered. He had a panic attack, not a heart attack. But, he said, his heart couldn’t take much more of this. He started calling psychologists to deal with the crushing anxiety.
Police promised to vastly increase patrols. The next night, they drove by again and again. Each time, they stopped to talk to the Bakers. They told them they’d found a group of youths in the cemetery without paint guns or BB guns.
“Maybe we put the fear of God in them,” one police officer said.
For the first time in a week, Baker said, he went to sleep relaxed. At 1 a.m., his daughter’s screams woke up the house.
Someone was shooting BBs and paintballs at her window, the highest in the house. They also blew through the kitchen window.
Now detectives are on the case, the house is on a special patrol schedule and the City Council has directed police to make an arrest.
Until that happens, Baker has turned his house into a bunker. Almost every window is covered with plywood.
He and his wife say the area around the cemetery simply needs more patrol officers. Only one is usually assigned to the zone.
“The police have been very good,” Regina Baker said. “But something needs to be done. The people doing this aren’t dumb. They know the police aren’t there.”
They’re relieved that police are stepping up the patrols. But they are still afraid.
They boarded up the broken windows after the attacks, only to find that vandals aimed at the unbroken glass. Now they’ve boarded up all but three windows in the entire house — including three that haven’t yet been hit.
“The front of the house is boarded up because I didn’t want them to shoot it out,” Stephen Baker said.
The cost is already beyond his means. Each insurance claim comes with a $500 deductible. He’s up to $3,000 now.
“I don’t have it,” Baker said. “I just don’t have it.”
So for now, the house is encircled with boards.
“I feel like I’m living in a cave,” Regina Baker said.
But even when the windows are fixed, she said she doesn’t want the boards to come down, because then the vandals might break them again.
“I am afraid to take the boards off,” she said.
She wants the city to replace the dim bulb on the streetlight next to her house. He wants permission to erect a 12-foot-tall stockade fence, although he doesn’t have the money for that either. He’s hoping Vale Cemetery might pay some of the cost.
In the meantime, Vale board of trustees President Bernie McEvoy has trimmed back the shrubs that the shooters might be hiding behind.
The family is also getting help from Habitat for Humanity, which built their house 12 years ago. Executive Director Jeff Clark is talking to their insurance company and trying to arrange volunteers to help with repairs.
Clark and McEvoy are also trying to get jersey barriers installed in front of the adjacent streets that lead into the cemetery. City plows have pushed snow into Vale’s fences at those intersections, knocking them down and making it easy for criminals to drive into the cemetery.
Vale has a grant to fix the fences, but McEvoy wants the barriers to go up first.
“If we fence them off before the blocks go up and the plows push the snow against them, they’ll go right over,” McEvoy said.
Clark is optimistic that barriers will be up soon.
“We’re presuming [the Baker house] is just an easy target, and we’re going to do all we can to change that,” he said.
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett agreed that the family seems to have no connection to the vandals.
“He’s a nice man. He doesn’t deserve this. It’s a damned shame,” Bennett said, adding that he thinks the house is being targeted because it is isolated at the end of a dimly lit street next to an area where it’s easy to hide.
“It leads me to believe they see the house as an easy target — and not only the house but them as well,” Bennett said. “They may live nearby. Probably late teens. Probably many people are involved. Which is helpful to us, because that means somebody’s got a lot to lose and somebody else probably has nothing to lose.”
Detectives are talking to sources in an effort to find the vandals, he said.
“Our people on the street are very good,” he said. “We’re on it.”