NUEVO ARENAL – A gang of three juveniles – nicknamed the “Teletubbies” by authorities – has been terrorizing this town for months.
With petty theft, burglaries and robberies skyrocketing in the town of 3,000 on the north side of LakeArenal near the world-famous volcano of the same name, locals are fed up.
“I would estimate about 60 percent of homes here have been broken into, and we’re averaging about a theft a night,” U.S. citizen and resident Bob Furr said.
Police confirmed the crime wave and said they know who is committing most of the burglaries over the last several months.
The suspects are three local juveniles with the last names León (also known as Paolillo), 14, Herrera (aka Bon Jovi), 16, and Alvarez (aka El Gordo), 16.
“In four days, I’ve received eight complaints against them,” Nuevo Arenal Police Chief Manrique Urieta said. “In the last month, I’ve received about 20. It’s a local gang, and they’ve been identified by the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) and the rash of burglaries is under investigation.”
Furr, at a May 2 meeting of concerned foreign residents, said the community is considering taking vigilante measures against the thieves because of the lack of response from authorities.
“I think we’d all be willing to chuck in $100 to put a bounty on the criminals,” he said. “We’re getting damn close to vigilantism.
What really brought it all to a head is someone broke into a home and stole all of the (Methodist) church’s donations.”
Police said the April 29 burglary of church donations remained under investigation by the OIJ.
Urieta said he fears mob justice is just around the corner if something isn’t done about the youth, one of whom is allegedly the son of a former police officer.
“The people are already ready to do this,” he said. “They’re tired of the impunity. The only reason the community hasn’t taken revenge on the youths yet is because we have arrived in time to stop it. The town will retaliate if the Teletubbies aren’t convicted.” (These Teletubbies are not to be confused with a gang of a similar name that haunted Alajuela, northwest of San José, from 2000 to 2005.)
Urieta blames drugs for the Teletubbies’ downward spiral into criminality – marijuana, crack and glue when they can’t get the first two. “They fence their stolen items to feed their drug habit,” he said.
Before the May 2 meeting, an unidentified person representing the http://lake-arenal-safeguard.blogspot.com blog, which is dedicated to cataloguing area crimes and encouraging people to report them, left a note suggesting vigilantism as a possible strategy if the authorities do not respond to crimes within a timely manner.
“The voices of vigilantism should not hold public meetings but set the examples they deem necessary,” states the letter. “Since vicious violent crimes against persons have been committed, this might be a necessity for a wake-up call, but at the same time we have not used all nonviolent remedies.”
The letter, which doesn’t detail the “vicious, violent” crimes, addresses frustration with the authorities for not arresting, prosecuting and convicting local criminals.
“Investigations must be fostered to find out why the responsible authorities – most prevalently the OIJ and immigration – aren’t doing anything in view of the great amount of information they have received, as well as the abundant evidence and the naming of the suspects,” the letter states.
Urieta said even with an abundance of witnesses and evidence, including arrests of the suspects with stolen items in their possession, authorities are handicapped by weak laws against juvenile offenders that favor alternative sentencing and no jail time.
Residents also complain of having to provide gas to police.
Nuevo Arenal police officer Carlos Ramírez called the town’s only police truck “a piece of junk.”
He said the local police office doesn’t even have a phone. Ramírez and Urieta give their personal cell phone numbers to locals and pay the bills themselves.
Nuevo Arenal Not Alone
The theft problem in Nuevo Arenal is not confined to the Nuevo Arenal Teletubbies.
The Importadora Monge store, on the same block as the local police headquarters, had its entire stock of appliances cleaned out on the night of April 26.
The thieves disabled the alarm system and entered through the roof. Police say they suspect a former employee, whom they declined to name.
Other communities near Arenal Volcano also are suffering from rampant robberies. Between April 24 and 30, 10 robberies were committed in La Fortuna, at the foot of the volcano, and El Tanque, the daily La Nación reported. Hotels, restaurants, pharmacies and homes were targets.