Woman accused of pretending to have kids to steal from schools

ARLINGTON — She pretended to have young children. Time and time again, she visited local schools and asked about enrolling her nonexistent kids.

Then, when school staff were distracted, the 36-year-old Arlington woman allegedly grabbed purses, wallets and electronics from offices and classrooms. She was arrested last week in Arlington and booked into the Snohomish County Jail. She’s accused of similar crimes in Everett and Marysville in recent weeks. Police also are investigating her boyfriend’s possible involvement.

“It was all drug-related,” Marysville detective Jon Elton said. “They have a heroin and methamphetamine addiction. Her whole purpose was to go in there and try to steal items.”

Elton, who is assigned to the north county property crimes unit, started working the case after a March 3 theft at the Mountain View Presbyterian Church preschool in Marysville. A woman entered the preschool, wandered around and looked through a closet. When confronted by an employee, she said she was looking for a school for her children.

“This is all on video,” Elton said.

A teacher’s purse later turned up missing. When Elton interviewed the teacher, he found it odd that the teacher’s stolen credit cards had not been used. She told him she’d heard about a similar incident at Grace Academy, a private school in Marysville.

The Grace Academy theft, from Feb. 24, also involved a woman asking about a preschool. A pastor’s cellphone and tablet computer were stolen. The pastor had saved the serial number for his phone, and Elton tracked down the device. It had been traded for $100 at a kiosk where people can unload old electronics. For every transaction, the kiosk records a thumbprint, a photo and a driver’s license.

Marysville police recognized the man who sold the phone. They knew he lived in the Arlington area, so they called Arlington officers, who said the man’s girlfriend might also be involved.

A photo of the girlfriend was an “exact match” for the suspect in the Mountain View surveillance video, Elton said. He sent a memo to police around the region, saying he had a warrant for her arrest.

On Tuesday, Elton got a call from Arlington school resource officer Stephanie Ambrose. The suspect had been spotted at Eagle Creek Elementary, where she’d given a fake name.

“That school resource officer, it was smart thinking, she sent a bulletin to all Arlington schools,” Elton said.

The woman was arrested after she tried the same thing that day at Pioneer Elementary. Her behavior triggered several school lockdowns.

She is suspected of stealing from at least two schools in Arlington before she was caught, city spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said.

The woman also is suspected of two thefts earlier this month in Everett. She reportedly stole teachers’ wallets from Garfield Elementary and Everett High School. In both cases, the stolen credit cards were discarded.

The woman reportedly has admitted to the thefts. She said she and her boyfriend were interested in cash and gift cards, and they threw everything else away. They didn’t want to deal with the trouble of stolen credit cards.

The woman was booked for investigation of theft and trafficking in stolen property. She has since been released on bail.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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