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The biggest story of 2011 for this blog has been that of how we caught the guy who stole our iPhones, credit cards, cash from a Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort this past March. Since I had to redo this website (hacker stuff), I thought I would bring this post back to life for anyone still interested in hearing what will be a story that I will tell as long as I live.. Enjoy!

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This is the story of how technology, quick thinking, adrenaline and a lot of prayer helped our family recover over $1,500 in stolen iPhones, cash and credit cards on our 2011 annual trip to Walt Disney World. Our family decided to take a relaxing day at the pool at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort at Bay Lake in Florida’s Walt Disney World on Wednesday, March 16th. We thought it reasonable enough to leave our valuables in our diaper bag under the lounge chair while we swam. The items included two iPhones, two wallets containing credit cards and cash, our identification and room keys, our digital camera and other small items. Needless to say, hindsight is 20/20.

After about a half an hour of swimming, the sunshine was brighter than my laziness, so I took my two-year-old son back to the lounge chair to retrieve my sunglasses.When I got there I noticed the bag had been missing so I walked over to the pool and asked my wife Carrie if she had put the bag somewhere else. At that point we realized that the bag had been taken. As Carrie and my five-year-old daughter came over to the chair I frantically looked around to other chairs to see if my bag had been accidentally moved elsewhere. After a brief scan in the pool area I asked Carrie to stay with the kids and told her that I would get new room keys and head back to our hotel room to access the Internet so that I could try to track my iPhone before it was too late.

So I took off running. I ran to the main lobby on my first mission to the front desk, still wet in my swim trunks and having thrown on my t-shirt and flip-flops – I’m certain people were wondering what in the world was wrong with me. With a little panic in my voice, I told the woman behind the counter that my bag, wallet, ID and room keys had just been stolen and that I needed to get into my hotel room as soon as possible. She gave me a “lost article report” card to fill out and I told her that I’d have to fill it out in my room and that I needed to get to my room as soon as possible. Before she could issue me new room keys however, I had to answer a few security questions to prove that I indeed was who I said I was.

So she asked me for my address, to which I gave her our current address – which was not the address that she had on file.Then I said it’s probably under my mother’s address since the reservations were also in her name. So I gave the woman that address – which was also wrong. I was in disbelief and told her it has to be those addresses! So she asked me for my telephone number. I gave her my phone number and… that was also wrong. So I gave her my mom’s telephone number and finally I got a question right! She said I need to give her a correct address as she looked at me with hesitancy. I gave her my previous address and ding-ding we have a winner! At that point she issued me new room key cards and deactivated the old ones. So after a quick thanks I went running towards the elevators.

Pushing buttons incessantly for the elevator up and then to floor 5 until the doors to the elevator opened and it was off to the races once again. I dodged housekeeping carts and room service trays and finally made it all the way to the other end of the hall where my room was located, about as far from the elevator as you could get, of course. I have my room key in hand ready to open the door and there is a sign on the door that housekeeping is cleaning my room. So I pound on the door and our housekeeper, Mimi, answers as I jumble words together trying to get out the statement, “I need in my room please I have to do something really quickly!” She let’s me in and I grab my Macbook out of hiding and set it on the desk. As it’s booting up I kick off my flip- flops and throw on a pair of socks and running shoes hoping for the opportunity to run some more. Once my laptop boots up I try to access the Internet and it asks me to purchase an Internet access plan for $9.99 for 24 hours. I’m thinking, “come on!”

After finally being able to access the Internet I sign into my MobileMe account at me.com and click on the “find my iPhone” link to locate the iPhones. A map comes up and my iPhone locator shows up at the lodge’s boat dock. Knowing that I only have a very slim window to get down to the boat dock before the next ferry comes in for either Magic Kingdom, Fort Wilderness Campgrounds or the Contemporary Resort, I leave my laptop on the desk and bolt past Mimi the housekeeper and run once again for the elevator at the other end of the hall. Praying as I’m running that God will help me in my “time of need” I make it to the elevator, frantically pushing buttons yet again and running out once I hit the first floor. I run through the pool area full speed and seeing my family sitting at our lounge chair I yell over to my wife,“have them stop the boats – the ‘guy’ is at the boat docks!”

I continue running through the crowd onto the boardwalk heading towards the docks trying to process what’s about to happen. As I approach the boat dock I scan to see if there are any boats at the dock or on their way out.There were no boats in the area, so I stopped running and walked out onto the boat dock trying not to look panicked or out of place. I immediately noticed that there were five people standing on the dock when I had arrived.These people consisted of two elderly couples and a man in his forties.The man in his forties was wearing a camouflage ball-cap and was carrying a black backpack on his shoulders, but none of the people had our bag. As I walked onto the boat dock I scanned the entire dock looking for the bag or our possessions. I looked in the garbage can as well. At this point there were more people coming out on the dock to line up for the ferry to Magic Kingdom and a boat was heading toward the dock to transport the people, including the five people who were now lined up for the ferry.

Now I begin to play out scenarios as I’m trying to decide the best course of action, all the while not knowing for certain that this man I suspect is the perpetrator. I knew that I could have arrived at the dock too late and that the suspect could have already taken a ferry from the dock since it took me 2-3 minutes to arrive at the dock from my hotel room. I thought of walking up to the man and punching him in the face or telling him I suspected that he stole our stuff and then punching him in the face! I thought about making a big scene and yelling at him, hoping that bystanders would help me grab his backpack to rummage through. I thought about running up to the incoming ferry boat captain and asking them to intervene, but letting the man leave the dock with his bag was not an option.You can imagine the 45 seconds of turmoil I went through until the lodge’s recreational manager, John, approached me and asked if I was the person who my wife had told him about.

Relieved to have someone finally on my side helping me, I explained that I thought the man with the camouflage hat and backpack had possession of our valuables. John asked me why I suspected this individual and I explained that I had tracked my iPhone using a tracking app on the web and it had led me to the boat dock and that the first five people standing in line were the only people on the dock when I had arrived. I told John that he looked out of place and was acting suspicious, and that I don’t want to judge anyone but that I had very good reason to believe that he had my iPhone and possibly our other possessions. I then asked John if he could search the man’s bag. He told me that he did not have the authority to search the man’s bag and that security had been notified and were on their way to the dock. So I asked him if he could hold the ferry boat until security arrived so that the suspect didn’t leave with my belongings. He said he would go talk to the boat captains about it.

At this time the boat had docked and the people on the boat were disembarking as John made his way over to talk with the boat captains. I stood where I was trying to “play it cool” so that the suspect would not catch on and leave the area, or worse yet ditch his backpack into the lake. After about a minute or two as the people stood in line waiting and wondering what the hold up was, the boat captains began letting them board the vessel. I turned around and standing at the other side of the boat dock was a Lake Patrol officer. I walked over to him and asked him if he was there to help me. He didn’t know what I was referring to so I quickly briefed him on the situation that had taken place thus far and asked him to search the man’s backpack for my valuables. By this time the suspect was boarding the ferry boat and John was still on the boat talking with the boat captains.The Lake Patrol officer, Angelo, told me that he didn’t have the authority to search the man’s bag at that point so I asked him if he could hold the boat until someone with the authority to search this man’s bag would show up. He went over to talk with the two boat captains and the rec manager.

After another minute or two, John and Angelo stepped off the ferry boat and the boat began to leave the dock. My heart sank and was beginning to lose hope, but I saw an iPhone in Angelo’s hands as he and John walked towards me.The iPhone had belonged to John and Angelo began downloading the “find my iPhone” app since he was also familiar with the tracking capabilities of this program. By the time he downloaded the app and I was able to enter my account information and password the ferry was about 400 yards offshore and on its way to Magic Kingdom.The locator map came up and the iPhone was showing up 400 yards offshore where the boat was! I said,“that’s it – he definitely is the one who took our stuff!”The patrol officer got on his walkie talkie and phoned over to Magic Kingdom security and gave them the description of the boat, the man and told them what had happened.Then he told me to jump in his speed boat and he threw a life-vest on me. We took off for the boat at full speed. I crouched down and hung on as we flew threw the water, and I twiddled my thumbs as we crawled through the no wake zone and bit my nails as we were able to join chase again at high speed!

We caught up with the ferry about halfway to Magic Kingdom and we stayed behind the boat about 50 yards while we continued to track my iPhone using the iPhone we borrowed from John back at the lodge. Once we were near Magic Kingdom we went off to the side past the ferry and pulled into the dock first. Security officers from the park were waiting for us and I jumped off the patrol boat and walked over towards the gate where one of the officers waited. I was out of breath, adrenaline was really pumping at that time and I was nervous that the suspect would catch on and ditch his bag or the valuables overboard while on the ferry.We were trying to pick up a signal at that point and it kept showing the last location about a few hundred yards back from where the boat was at that point. I began to get knots in my stomach and started to think that he had ditched the stuff overboard. Even the patrol officer seemed to agree that this was the case, but as the boat was pulling into the dock the map refreshed and the iPhone was still onboard of the ferry! Relieved and ready for the next part of this adventure, I crouched down behind the fence so that he wouldn’t see me and panic. After he got off the boat and was well enough away from the water I stood up and watched him walk through the turnstiles and off of the boat dock.

Security at this point was positioning themselves, still trying to remain inconspicuous, and I overheard them talking to one another that it was the man in the brown shirt. I walked over to them and said, “no it’s not the man in the brown shirt, it’s the man in the camouflage hat with the black backpack!” The man at this point had walked past us and began walking towards the main gate of the park when security asked me to identify the suspect and I ran towards him pointing my finger to him and saying, “that’s him, this guy right here!”

Security walked up to him and asked him if he would join them over at the bag checkpoint, which was routine for anyone entering the park with a bag.The suspect didn’t seem to act as if anything were out of the ordinary. I began to wonder if I chose the right person as the suspect and quickly looked around to see if any of the other four people were within sight. They were not anywhere around – cue up the sick feeling once again. Meanwhile I locked both my iPhone and Carrie’s iPhone with a code, put a display message on both screens and activated the alarm sound on both phones. At this time the security officer at bag check began to search the man’s backpack.

I saw the man turn around and look at me as the officers were talking to him as a security officer walked over to me and asked if one of the phones had a pink case on it. I confirmed that this was my wife’s iPhone and they told me that it was flashing and beeping. I confirmed that I had just remotely set the phones to lock, display a message and alarm.They told me that the man had six cell phones in his bag and other items and then they asked me to specifically describe the items that had been taken from us. After describing the items the officer said that’s sufficient to move forward with detaining the suspect if I wanted to press charges. I said yes, that I’d like to press all charges possible.They asked me if I would like to have them call the Orange County sheriffs to respond since they did not have the authority to arrest the man. I agreed to this and there was already a sheriff on site that worked at the park. After talking with the sheriff, they decided to move the suspect and me to another location, so they escorted us to the park’s main security offices. I followed behind the group of officers, suspect and park authorities.

I found out at that time that they had recovered our diaper bag in a women’s restroom back at the Wilderness Lodge and that Carrie was going through it to see what had been taken.They also informed me that Carrie and the kids were on a boat and their way over to the park to meet up with me.When I arrived at the security offices they put me in the conference room and gave me a bottle of water. I sat down and drank the water with relief. My hands were shaking, I felt like I could have vomited from all the stress that I had just endured. I was exhausted physically from the pursuit and adrenaline rush. I laid my head down on the table and thanked God for an amazing outcome to what had seemed hopeless before.Then my family came walking into the conference room and everything was okay again – I’m honestly surprised I didn’t cry at that point.

I looked through the diaper bag at that point and Carrie showed me that our camera had not been taken and that her wallet was still in there as well as our IDs and credit cards. He had taken a few hundred dollars in cash, some Disney gift-cards, my actual wallet, our two iPhones and my VISA debit card. At that point, I wasn’t sure that my debit card was in there or if it were still in my shorts back at the room, although I thought it was in my wallet.

We were all still in our swimwear and my son was still in a swim diaper – bad news! The guest relations manager from the lodge accompanied my family and he took my wife down to the store and bought us all outfits to change into at a price of $298.The best part of that was that Carrie had to stroll through Main Street as a parade was about underway in her coverup with wet hair like she just got out of the swimming pool! Meanwhile the kids were with me and a Disney “cast-member” came to the conference room with stuffed animals, food, toys, coloring books and sat down with my kids and played with them while I answered questions and such.

We all got to change into clothes and wrote our statements as the hours ticked away on the clock and Disney’s cast members and security officers took good care of us. Finally a detective from Orange County came in with my wallet, cash and both of our iPhones. He also had a Disney arcade game card for $25 which I gave back and said that it was not ours. My VISA debit card was not there, although everything else was accounted for. I was told that the man already had a list of charges against him from some priors and that about once a year for the past few years he would spring up for theft but not have a strong enough case to send him to jail for more than a 3-5 day stint.

They told me that this time he would be charged with grand theft since he stole over $1,500 worth of items from us as well as trespass since he had already been banned from Disney property.We were able to leave at that point and we were escorted to a taxi that they had waiting for us. Cody, the guest relations manager at Disney, escorted us back to the Lodge as we had reservations at a Luau in just under an hour that we still wanted to make.We went into our hotel room and there was a tray full of gifts and a card waiting for us and after we were ready they provided transportation right to the Luau. I’m very appreciative of how Disney took care of my family throughout the course of the event. Exceptional customer service is definitely a strength of Disney.

The following Monday morning I called the Orange County Sheriff’s department and notified them that my bank records had showed that the criminal had used my VISA debit card to make one purchase after he took it.The purchase was for $25 at the Disney arcade at the Wilderness Lodge. I assume that he was just trying to squeeze a little more out of the hit he scored on us but this greed will certainly cost him. Of course I reported my card stolen and filed an affidavit with the bank to get my money back from that transaction. I provided the sheriff’s department with the transaction information including the date, time, location and amount, which happen to fit right in the timeline with the statement that I filed on the day of the theft. I found out that the case was solid enough to have this criminal sentenced to a prison term and that justice will be served.

One week later at the time of this writing, I was able to do a simple Google search and find that the criminal, who I will call David B., had grand theft records from 2009 and 2010 in addition to the trespassing, grand theft and now fraudulent use of a credit card from the incident involving my family one week ago. He is still in the county jail having been pre-sentenced and waiting for justice.

It feels great to have an outcome this amazing – and I have to give the credit to God for answering the prayers that I said running to and from my hotel room. I am convinced that it’s not just coincidence that the timing of everything worked out as it did. Had I not noticed the bag stolen when I did or arrived at the dock when there were only five people there and between the ferries that were coming and going – this would not have been the outcome. If the locator would have shown up anywhere else within the area – I could not have pinpointed it so accurately as I was able to do with the boat dock.

So the outcome was that everything except our VISA debit card was returned. I will be getting my $25 back from that charge.We received hundreds of dollars worth of clothes, toys and food from the kind people at Disney.And the best part of the event – I have quite a story to tell for the rest of my life!

The day after the event occurred, we went swimming again – but this time we only took one room key and no valuables. Lesson learned.

 

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Update:

Carrie and I were subpoenaed this past summer to appear in court if the case went to trial in August. We received a phone call from the State Attorney in Florida and were informed that the defendant entered into a drug rehabilitation program and so as long as he completed the program successfully, he would not go to trial. We were happy with this justice, as long as he received the help he needed to walk away from that lifestyle. To us, justice was served.

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