TORONTO — An elderly man leaving Baycrest after visiting his wife was mugged and robbed in what police are calling a distraction theft.
Ninety-year-old Harry Behr was “swarmed” by three women speaking a foreign language who surrounded him, grabbed his arm and appeared to be giving him jewelry.
Despite his protestations, “I don’t want, I don’t want,” the women persisted in assaulting him. Eventually they “ran off to a car that was waiting and took off,” said Behr’s daughter, Rise Wegler.
When Behr realized what had happened, he found a gold necklace and pendant were missing, as was a heavy gold bracelet. “It happened so fast, I didn’t even know what was happening,” he said.
Wegler said the jewelry is worth thousands, but also has tremendous sentimental value, as her father had been wearing the bracelet for 50 years and the pendant of Moses holding the 10 Commandments was a gift from her mother, Sabine, who now resides in Baycrest’s long-term care facility.
“Dad was so bamboozled by all of them. He says they were in their 30s, but it happened in the blink of an eye.”
“Thank God they didn’t kill him or push him down.”
The incident took place at 3:45 p.m. on Oct. 21, but despite the hour, there were no witnesses or security guards present, Wegler said.
Wegler questions whether security at Baycrest is adequate and how well they respond to incidents like the one that “traumatized” her father.
“I think this is something everybody should be aware of… the community should know. It’s a safety issue.” Wegler is also upset with the response of Baycrest officials, who she said “never called to see how my dad was… I am distraught and angry over their lack of compassion towards this incident.”
Victor Oliveira, who is in charge of security at Baycrest, said the centre has security cameras at all its doors, including Entrance 7, where the incident took place, but Behr was robbed in an area outside the camera’s field of vision.
Baycrest was in contact with police following the incident and was told similar “distraction thefts” have been taking place along Yonge Street between Finch and Steeles avenues, mostly targeting elderly women, he said.
Police recommended several security steps, but Oliveira said Baycrest had already adopted some of them. On June 18, he said, the facility added security staff and now had three officers patrolling during the day and another three at night. That more than doubles the centre’s earlier security complement.
They are following police suggestions to patrol in irregular and unpredictable patterns.
“We’ve taken all possible measures to ensure that Baycrest is kept safe,” Oliveira said. But these incidents are crimes of opportunity, and the perpetrators will strike when they see no security present. Baycrest is advising visitors and staff to be vigilant and alert, he added.
Baycrest conducted a risk assessment in August 2010 and another in September 2012 “to see the level of security and gaps and was quite satisfied” that the measures in place were superior to those employed at other institutions of similar size, Oliveira said.
And as to Wegler’s concerns, Oliveira said he contacted her when he first learned of the incident a day after it occurred. He met Behr and Wegler afterward.
Three days after the event, Behr said he felt “OK. Hopefully it was an isolated incident.” He added that he’ll continue to visit his wife as he has done every day for the past three years.