Karen Kaplan’s Deerfield home was invaded by three men March 19. Rarely does a crime victim come forward to tell their story. Kaplan relates what happened to her and two of her three children in March. She talks of her feeling and the ultimate forgiveness of the perpetrators. Her unedited version of what happened that day is reprinted below with her permission. She now lives in Highland Park. She can be contacted at Karenkaplan@att.net. if you have your own experiences to share.
The perpetrators of the crime have not been apprehended though the investigation is continuing, according to Deerfield Deputy Police Chief Tom Keane.
By Karen Kaplan
It had been months since my children were all home and I couldn’t wait to be with them. Max had started his first job teaching high school history and coaching basketball. He stayed at his dad’s house during the week (since it was closer to his work), and came home on weekends. Noah and Raquel were both in school at the University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana and I hadn’t seen them since the new year. They came in for spring vacation, and Raquel had been sleeping in my room the past four nights.
“Mom, I decided to stay in my room tonight.”
“What ever you want, Sweetheart,” I said, “it’s late and I’m going to bed.”
She tucked me in, kissed me on my forehead and said “good night mom, love you and sweet dreams.”
Raquel went into her room and I fell asleep watching T.V. Noah was downstairs at the kitchen table with earphones on, listening to a lecture on his computer as he studied for his MCAT exams.
Minutes before 11:00 p.m. three armed, masked men stormed into our house through the open garage door. They headed directly to the kitchen, grabbed Noah, and threw him on the floor, facedown. They tied his hands behind his back and bound his feet together. One of the gunmen took Noah’s cell phone and zapped it in the microwave. Then he slammed Noah’s computer to shut off the din.
“How many are upstairs and where are they?” one of them demanded.
“Two, I don’t know where they are,” cried Noah.
While one gunman guarded Noah, the other two ran upstairs. I awoke to two gunmen who stood at the front of my bed and pointed their weapons at me. One of them was dressed in blue medical scrubs and a surgeon’s mask. The other wore sunglasses and a dark hat that covered his forehead and ears.
“Who are you? Who are you?” I screamed and thought for a split second this must be a prank. I jumped out of bed and instinctively tightened the long cotton robe around my body, wishing I’d also worn a nightgown. The gunman who wore the scrubs pulled down his mask and yelled, “Give me your hands.” He grabbed my arms and tied them together with large garbage bag ties.
“Where’s the cash? Where’s the cash?” he screamed in a vicious tone. I was so scared I felt like I wasn’t even in my body.
I cried out, “I don’t have any cash. Take me to the bank. I’ll give you all my money.” I remember thinking that I wanted them to take me out of the house so that they wouldn’t harm my children. But he slammed me into the night stand and pushed me down onto the floor. He stood over me pointing the gun at my head. He seemed to be waiting while I just stared at the gun.
Then the third gunmen looked in my bathroom and ran down the hallway. What I didn’t know was that Raquel had heard my screams. She’d locked her bedroom door and hid in the corner of her room. The gunman kicked her door open and barged into her room. He saw her crouched behind the dresser with a cell phone to her ear.
He put the gun barrel to her temple and yelled, “Give me the phone!”
She gave him the phone, pointed to her bed and cried, “There’s my wallet and tablet. Take it.”
He hurried out of her room, calling out to the thug who was still holding me at gunpoint, “Hey dude, she called 911.”
As they bolted downstairs, I sprang up and left my room to watch them. I hoped they had all left the house. I ran back to the bedroom and managed to dial help with my arms still tied. Then I went to find Raquel. She stood in her doorway looking shocked and pale, but didn’t appear to be physically injured.
A woman answered my call and I screamed “men just broke into my home. They had guns. Come quickly!” Raquel and I dashed downstairs and found Noah still bound on the kitchen floor. She ran to the cabinets and found a pair scissors to cut him free.
I darted to the front door and saw it was locked. I raced to the door leading to the garage and locked it. Emergency services were still on the phone. “Where are the police?” I wailed.
“They are there” she answered, “stay on the phone.”
“I don’t see them. Where are they?” I screamed.
“They have surrounded your house.”
Each second on the phone felt like hours. I couldn’t stop shaking. My children and I huddled in the foyer together. She spoke up again. “There is an officer walking up your driveway. Do you see him?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Let him in,” she said and I hung up.
The officer told us to come outside and led us to our next door neighbor’s house. It was 30 degrees outside and we were shivering, shaking, and I felt sick. My neighbor let us in and gave us blankets and socks. She found a pair of scissors and cut me free. My arms were noticeably scraped and bruised from the rough edges of the zip ties.
The police taped the perimeter of my house. They spent the next couple of hours searching for clues and fingerprinting every door and handle. We were eventually driven to the police station. They took us downstairs to a small room and we all sat on a couch. Noah had his arms around me and Raquel sat closely at my side.
Tears began streaming down my cheeks. I turned to Noah and sobbed, “My poor baby...I can’t imagine what went through your mind when the gunmen raced upstairs.”
I cried for my children having to endure this unfathomable experience; did they think we were all going to die?
“This is a bizarre crime, “said the detective, “do any of you have an idea about who might want to hurt you? Do any of you have enemies?”
I didn’t know what to think, but couldn’t imagine anyone who could be so vicious that they would hire gunmen to harm us. They questioned us together and then separately for a couple of hours wanting to know both every detail of the home invasion and information about our personal lives.
“You are all very lucky,” said the officer. “This could have been a whole lot worse.
This crime is considered one notch below a murder. Thankfully your daughter had the quick wits to dial 911.”
Bobby (my boyfriend) came to police station just minutes after I called him. The officers brought us upstairs to meet him. He tightly wrapped his arms around me and said, “Are you all ok? I can’t believe this has happened.”
The police officer suggested Bobby return home; the investigation was not complete.
“Can we all sleep in your house tonight?” I asked Bobby.
“Of course, I’ll get everything ready for your family,” he said and left.
A while later my ex-husband came to the station because Noah had called him. Again we were escorted upstairs by an officer to meet him.
“Karen, your house has bad karma. You had a burglary years ago and now this,” Robert said.
Then he handed Noah and Raquel each a sheet of paper. It was the NCAA picks and needed to be filled out so they can be included in his office tournament. Robert walked past his children and gave me a stiff and awkward hug. That surprised me. He is so peculiar, I thought. Then he left, too.
We finished answering all the detective’s questions and they drove us back home. The smell of burnt metal and plastic was noticeable as soon as we entered our house. Max was there waiting for us and hugged each one of us.
“Look around and see if they took anything,” said the detectives.
After a few minutes of searching I said, “Just my purse.”
“Tomorrow you need to come back to the station for facial composites. Also, in the next few days, all of you, including Max, need to be fingerprinted,” said the detectives.
By 3:30 a.m. my children and I drove to Bobby’s house and spent the rest of the night there. Raquel and I shared a bedroom once again while my sons slept in another room. I didn’t sleep that first night (or for many weeks afterward).
In the morning a security company came to change my locks and the following day a wireless alarm system was installed.
“Raquel,” I said, “the alarm technician gave me this panic button free of charge since he felt so sorry me. It can be worn around my neck when I’m at home. I press and hold this button for 2 seconds and the police will come immediately.”
“Mom,” said Raquel, “don’t wear your fear.”
“You’re right, but it will take some time to heal.” I said.
“Fine, I’ll give you one week.” she said and I smiled for the first time since the home invasion.
Why would armed thugs want to invade my home? There is no money stashed here and I don’t work in a cash business or handle any cash transactions. Was it random? Maybe it was opportunistic? After all, the garage door was accidentally open. But I notice lots of homes in my neighborhood where the garages are left open and many of my friends leave their doors unlocked. A crime like this has never occurred in Deerfield. Could I have been the intended target? Did someone follow any of us home that day? These questions kept replaying over and over in my mind - day after day.
Staying home alone during the day or night was not an option. I was terrified. When Noah and Raquel went back to school, friends came by to keep me company. Bobby’s golden retriever, Lucky, stayed with me during the day until I finally adjusted to being home by myself. My panic button was my safety guard yet it felt like an albatross around my neck. It was a constant reminder of the home invasion.
Bobby and I took turns sleeping at each other’s places. While he slept, I would lay awake listening to the noises inside and outdoors. Muffled sounds agitated me. I followed the movement of lights on the bedroom ceiling and walls as the cars drove by. If the lights slowed down or stopped, I ran to the side of the window and looked to see if a car had parked on the street. I was paranoid. If Bobby woke up to go to the bathroom at night, and I awoke seeing his silhouette, I screamed. My startling reflex intensified. I was scared of my own shadow.
My children returned from college in May and new rules were implemented in our house. If they came home after 10 p.m., they would call or text before they entered the house. What if someone was waiting in the bushes ready to hurt them? From my upstairs window, I watched as they walked up the driveway into the house.
Being in my car felt safer but I always checked my rear view mirrors to see if I was being followed. I would be on the lookout of strange cars parked in my neighborhood. My friends and family members suggested that I move. My house did not feel like a home so I put it up for sale. It sold within two weeks and I bought a condo in an adjacent suburb. A new beginning and a safer environment is just what I needed.
Even with the prospect of moving, my nerves were getting the best of me. I couldn’t help but think about the very day my father witnessed his mother and sisters taken from their home and beaten to death. Though my experience was an inkling of what my father endured during the Holocaust, I was in a hyper-vigilant state of fear, just like him. Was I following in his footsteps destined to be paranoid and fearful for the rest of my life? Was I continuing centuries long heritage of fear and victimization? Was it ever going to be possible to let this go and move forward with grace and ease?
A couple of months passed and I was feeling less vulnerable and more secure in my house. During this time, I met with a social worker who thought I was doing quite well under the circumstances. But I noticed that my fear was morphing into anger. I wanted those bastards caught and visualized them rotting in jail. How dare they threaten my family. How dare they scar my children for life. I wanted justice and I wanted it now. Each week I contacted the sergeant and detectives at the Deerfield police station hoping for new information on my case. The fingerprints came back negative with just traces of my daughter’s prints on her cell phone. Each day I checked the internet for the latest articles involving current arrests of home invaders in the Chicago metropolitan area. I looked at countless mug shots online, but my case was still a mystery. These thugs are roaming the streets, I thought and terrorizing other families. They must be stopped and held accountable for their crimes.
Again I thought about my father focusing his entire life on revenge and plotting the deaths of Kordash and Jablonski, (the workers who murdered my grandmother and aunts). He never discovered that they were killed after the war. Maybe the criminals that invaded my home are already serving a jail sentence. I may never know.
What I do know is that I am tired of feeling scared, anxious and paranoid. I am tired of feeling bitter and angry. This fear and anger will consume me if I let it persist. I don’t want to be just a survivor or a victim. I want to be able to go outside at night and return home without fear. I want to live my life with fortitude, hope and optimism.
Amidst all these feelings, a bewildering question echoed in my mind. Why did this incomprehensible experience happen to me? Maybe it was a divine plot designed to test whether I can recover from a traumatic episode. Maybe this was my ultimate test of forgiveness...to forgive those who might have raped and murdered my children and me.
I cried knowing that my children were deeply traumatized and yet part of me was grateful that they were home that evening. If not for them, I may not be alive today. I was seconds away from rape, torture and possibly death. Then I wondered why Noah and Raquel needed to experience this trauma, as well.
I hope these three hoodlums will be caught and sent to jail. They’re probably going to try other home invasions, and they’ll most likely be incarcerated one day. But I don’t want to worry about if and when they will be punished because it just isn’t up to me. I don’t want to be consumed by what is going to happen to them. But I know that my hatred of these men is like a set of crab claws hooked inside of me. It can sometimes smother my thoughts, control my feelings, and waste my time and energy. What I can do is not let this experience destroy my equilibrium. I cannot control the wheels of justice, but I can learn to control my emotions and not let them get the best of me.
People who have bumped up against evil are often consumed by what should happen to the evil-doers. Sometimes they even get bogged down fantasizing about revenge in addition to demanding justice. My father, for example, spent his whole life in a place of darkness and never even considered the idea of moving on. He was paralyzed by his feelings and his quest for compensation. Letting go of rage and forgiving those who had harmed him wouldn’t have changed anything except for his outlook on life and its domino effect on the next generation.
After twenty-one years raising my three children in my Deerfield home, I eagerly packed up the entire house and counted the days until I moved. Will I be able to create a new home for my family filled with laughter and joy? Can I rise above this trauma and allow myself to feel peace in my heart? I want everyone who has suffered to be able to overcome it, and to return to a place of wholeness.
Looking to the external is not going to help any of us; the answer lies deep in our cores. Others have said this in different ways, but the truth is that we can’t usually affect the world just by holding onto anger and fear. Nothing is going to change, because the only possible change is inside of us.
Lying in bed feeling hurt, persecuted, fearful or otherwise mistreated is not going to lead to a better way of life for anyone. Nor is it going to solve anything. I don’t want to lose any more precious time consumed with these feelings. Just like everyone else in my position, I needed to return to the peace and contentment that once resided within me, to channel my fear into positive thoughts, and to remain calm and centered.
I know that even when bad things happen, I will have the strength and control to overcome the kind of pessimism and defeatism that plagued my father throughout his life. Of course I understand that I need to be careful and cautious, but I refuse to let myself be alarmed or paranoid any longer. As the months passed, my thoughts about the home-invasion became less frequent. But whenever I start to see images of those invaders and the tension begins to mount, I distract myself. 1) I take long deep breaths and remind myself that I love life with every cell and fiber of my being. 2) I remind myself that I am created in the image of a loving God. 3) I visualize a feminine presence for God (called the Shechinah in Hebrew), which I feel as a protective covering or shield surrounding me. 4) I repeatedly chant the words of the Adon Olam:
“I entrust my soul in God’s hands, when I sleep and when I awake, and with my spirit and my body. God is with me, I will not fear.”
And if none of these four steps works for me in overcoming the tendency to dwell on my anger and fear, I take the fifth step. I picture very large hands of God, and imagine those men enveloped in those hands. Let God take care of them, I pray. Then I say the following:
I want to honor myself,
I want to honor the memory of my father,
I want to honor my ancestors.
I want to give hope to the next generation.
I forgive those home invaders.