Ernesto Morales hunched over his little work station in the Amsterdam Riverfront Center on Wednesday morning, perfecting the shape of a white gold wedding band with an air-powered jewelry grinder, just as he has for 21 years.
“When I heard I’d been robbed,” he said from behind his eye protection, “I prayed this ring would still be here.”
Ernesto Morales Jewelry and Repair, one of only a few occupied storefronts in the quiet mall, was burglarized sometime shortly before 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
According to Amsterdam police Detective Lt. Kurt Conroy, a security guard passing on his regular rounds spotted a smashed-out window around 8:35 p.m. and called police.
When Morales eventually was called back to his store, he arrived to find his glass display cases trashed and empty.
“Whoever it was came in through the ceiling,” he said.
Directly above his corner work station, panels from the drop ceiling hung in shambles, revealing a broken hole in the firewall just below the roof beams. A burglar apparently crawled above the drop ceiling through a hole in the public bathroom a few doors down.
Listener’s Choice, a hearing aid shop between the bathroom and jewelry store, was breached as well, though nothing was taken. Owner Daryle Conlin walked into his back room and pointed to a very small hole in his ceiling, just on the other side of the wall from Morales’ shop.
“He was a skinny guy,” he said.
Judging by the small break in Conlin’s ceiling and the equally small hole in Morales’ firewall, Conroy agreed: Police are looking for a small thief.
“A drop ceiling just wouldn’t support a normal person,” he said. “We’re looking for someone of small stature.”
Based on Morales’ story, Conroy should be looking for a small thief who also has a keen eye for value.
“He emptied this case — except for these,” he said, pointing at a single string of pearls. “These are freshwater pearls. They’re cheap. He took all the expensive cultured pearls and left these.”
It’s the same story with the rest of the shop. Gold-plated watches were left behind. Valuable items were taken. As Morales worked away at the white gold ring, his employee, Dolores Murdico, theorized.
“He wasn’t in here for five minutes,” she said. “He took all the earrings off their backing. That takes time.”
A small window by the door was shattered, presumably to avoid another trip through the ceiling. It’s since been replaced and the store cleaned up a bit, but things were still in disarray Wednesday.
“I don’t have insurance,” Morales said. “It’s so expensive here.”
Aside from worries about supporting his 6-year-old son, Moises, Morales was less concerned about his own losses than his customers’ missing property — a large portion of his business comes from jewelry repairs, and these items accounted for much of the stolen property. As he pointed out empty shelves once full of items awaiting repair, the phone rang. Murdico answered it.
“It’s DiCaprio,” she said. “Did you find her stuff?”
“No, it’s gone,” Morales replied.
Conroy said Morales will likely have to reimburse his customers out-of-pocket for their loss. At least his lack of insurance removes the shop owner from suspicions of insurance fraud, which Conroy listed as an upside.
Morales did get one piece of encouragement. Upon returning to his sacked shop, he found the white gold band right where he left it on his work station.
“It must have been missed,” he said, “It’s for a wedding June 1. I couldn’t have gotten another one in time.”
Riverfront Center security officials refused comment on the burglary except to say the mall doors are locked around 9 p.m. every Sunday, which made for a narrow escape.
Amsterdam police are still investigating. Conroy confirmed police do have security footage of a single person leaving through the mall’s main entrance, but would not comment on any possible leads. Law enforcement agencies will be watching area pawn shops for stolen items, though, he said.