The metal front door, bent and dented, was wide open. Every light in the house was on. Two Minnesota Vikings replica jerseys were on the floor, but nothing else seemed out of place.
It was only after the police arrived that Mike Smith made his first thorough look throughout his Brooklyn Park home.
Speakers were missing. So was a flat-screen TV. And the jewelry box.
No, not the jewelry box, Smith thought.
In that box was the string-and-beads baby bracelet that Minneapolis Children's Hospital volunteers gave Smith's mother on the day he was born. Also in the box were eight watches, including Smith's grandfather's 90-year-old gold pocket watch. The watch was a gift from Smith's mother on his 25th birthday.
"I could replace the $7,000 worth of stereo and computer equipment that were stolen from me," said Smith, 42, a Wells Fargo risk analyst. "But I never thought I'd see my baby bracelet and grandfather's watch again."
Smith was one of several dozen victims from eight communities believed to have been burglarized by Jerried Curtis, 35, and a female accomplice. When Curtis and a woman were arrested in Ramsey on Halloween, investigators found several pieces of jewelry strewn around their vehicles, including items thought to have been stolen from homes in Ramsey, Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Coon Rapids, Big Lake, Elk River, Dayton and Anoka.
Curtis has been charged with first-degree burglary. The woman has yet to be charged.
Smith was among the theft victims notified last month and told to come to the Ramsey police station, where stolen property was placed on tables, waiting to be claimed.
Ramsey investigator Brad Bluml said authorities found a variety of jewelry -- including a baby-blue beaded bracelet which had the name Hammond.
Hammond was Smith's birth name, his father's name. But Smith's parents soon were divorced and he never knew his father as a child. For years, he felt that the baby bracelet was his only link to the father he knew so little about. And then it was gone.
"What could a baby's bracelet mean to thieves?" asked Smith's mother, Susan Zick, of Prior Lake. "That's something they could toss into a nearby trash can."
Smith, who said he did not meet his father until he was 21, assumes that the baby bracelet was taken only because it happened to be in the box with the watches.
"It's just beads on stretchy string," he said. "Of all the things to take. ... You don't know what it means to have it back."
As Smith sifted through jewelry and other items at the police station, he didn't immediately notice his grandfather's watch. He'd discovered three shopping carts of merchandise that had been stolen, including several of the speakers.
An officer asked if he'd had golf clubs stolen. No, he said. He assumed he was finished.
Then he saw the watch, which had been cleaned and polished before Smith received it as a gift. The gold chain was missing -- the chain his mother had added so Smith could wear it in his pocket, if he wanted.
"My grandfather died when I was very young," Smith said. "I have no memory of him at all. The watch was my memory."
Smith, once an avid weightlifter, said he's glad he didn't confront the thieves while they were in his house.
"I'm a bigger guy and I'm usually aware of my surroundings," he said. "I don't walk around in fear. What they really took away was my sense of security. I feel violated."
He also knows how fortunate he is.
"When he told me about the theft, I was just sick about it," Zick said. "Everything else could be replaced but that bracelet and watch.
"That he has them back is nothing short of a miracle."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419