Areas of Niagara-on-the-Lake are experiencing two separate patterns of vandalism, neither of them unique to this town.
Residents in Virgil and Queenston have been warning their neighbours on social media and reporting to police incidents of water bottles filled with a yellow liquid being left overnight in backyards and on porches.
Niagara Regional Police spokesperson Const. Phil Gavin said on Friday they had reports of 15-plus bottles being discovered between June 27 and 30. “Generally the bottles are appearing with no associated damage or theft,” he said.
Some residents are fearful the bottle is being left in their yard to see if it will be moved in the morning — if it isn’t, it would indicate nobody is home, and the house would be targeted for a break-in.
“We cannot rule out that this may be a vetting technique by criminals to determine whether a home owner is present,” said Gavin.
The NRP forensic service unit detectives are examining a number of the bottles, he said. “The contents has been initially examined, and determined to not be volatile.”
One of the recent Facebook posts from a Virgil resident said there had been as many as 30 such incidents, and there were also reports of the same situation in Grimsby.
Gavin told The Local Tuesday that he can confirm “the yellow bottle situation is in multiple communities in Niagara. “Our officers are investigating the numerous incidents.”
Chris Gillespie, administrator of a Facebook page created for residents of the Bradfield Estates subdivision in Virgil, said there have been about five incidents that she has heard about in her neighbourhood and the Homestead area.
One Bradfield Estate resident is reported to have seen a man caught on her security camera on her backyard porch overnight, trying to open her patio doors, said Gillespie. She described him as about 30 years old, and about 5’8”. The next morning she found a water bottle with yellow liquid in her yard.
Jim Armstrong, president of the Queenston Residents Association, estimated there are about a dozen reports of the bottles with yellow liquid that have been left at homes in the village. One resident made it known she had found a bottle on her driveway, and then “the reports started flooding in,” he says, from several different streets in the village, and one on the Niagara River Parkway.
He even heard from former Queenston resident Helena Copeland, who has moved with her husband Rob to a community near Ottawa, that it’s happening in her little village.
Armstrong said there have been reports of a car, a silver or bronze Lexus, stopped on one of the Queenston streets, and then slowly moving along the road, and also of a young person on a bicycle that nobody recognized. While neither of these have been connected to the water bottles, he mentioned them in case anyone else has seen them, or as something to watch out for.
Armstrong said the police called the water bottles part of a “region-wide” overall pattern of vandalism, also mentioning rock-throwing in some neighbourhoods.
“Members of the public who find a bottle of yellow fluid on their property are asked to call our non-emergency number, 905-688-4111 “dispatch” to report it,” says Gavin.
“Residents are asked to minimize their physical contact with the bottle until our officers attend or we give them other direction.”
Gillespie says she’s lived in the Bradfield neighbourhood for seven years, and always felt it was a safe place. She, along with her neighbours, wonder what the purpose of such an “unnerving, creepy,” act of vandalism could be.
She is suggesting people lock their fence gates, lock their doors and windows, and report any incidents of vandalism to the police.
Gavin encourages home owners to frequently check their properties, and if they are going on vacation, to have a trusted person do it for them.
He also recommends home owners consider the use of motion lighting and quality, closed circuit cameras
The rock-throwing has also occurred in Virgil, and detectives from multiple districts of the Niagara Regional Police Service are investigating incidents of overnight damage to parked cars, says Gavin.
Two photos of cars in NOTL with rocks through their back windows have been posted on Facebook, one by Brittany Lepp on Townline Road and East and West Line. She says although the police have reported some of the rocks appear to have picked up from nearby gardens, that wasn’t the case in her situation.
“The rock in my car wasn’t from my garden, and didn’t seem to be from anywhere nearby. It’s about the size of my hand and pretty heavy. They must have thrown it pretty hard, because it broke off my entire back wiper into three pieces.”
NRP uniforms and detectives are investigating more than 50 reports of damage across the region from large garden or driveway rocks being thrown through parked car windows, as well as one house window, incidents that occurred on June 28 and June 30.
As well as Lepp’s car, police are reporting a similar incident on Four Mile Creek Road, on June 30.
Sixteen of the incidents were June 28 in Grimsby, for which the NRP have a description of a white male, about six feet tall and thin, shirtless, wearing dark pants, a dark baseball cap, and a blue medical mask. He is believed to have been driving a dark-coloured car, similar to a Honda Civic.
The police have no description of the suspect in the other areas of the region, where the vandalism occurred overnight June 30.
Anyone, residents or businesses, in the area near where these incidents occurred, is asked to check closed circuit security cameras, doorbell video cameras, or operational dash cameras to review footage for suspicious activity during the period when the offences are believed to have happened.
Members of the public who wish to provide information anonymously can contact Crime Stoppers of Niagara online at https://crimestoppersniagara.ca/ or by calling 1-800-222-8477.
Crime Stoppers offers cash rewards to those who contact the program with information which leads to an arrest.