Sarah Stratton thought she'd never again see the digital camera her husband, Josh, had given her as a wedding gift after the Ham Lake couple were rousted from their bed by a gun-wielding home invader and robbed last week.
But on Wednesday, as she searched Craigslist in the vague hope she might find some of what was lost that terrifying night, Stratton spotted something she recognized -- a Nikon camera with a shoulder strap that was knotted in a familiar way.
The camera was hers. And as a result of her sleuthing, the 17-year-old bandit who had terrorized Stratton and her husband was put behind bars.
"I feel better he's off the streets," Stratton said on Thursday. "It's just scary. It can happen to anyone."
Still, Stratton, 27, was surprised it happened to them. The couple had lived in their two-story home, on a quiet cul-de-sac in the 1000 block of 173rd Lane NE., for only about six weeks when they were robbed.
"We had all of these plans to get an alarm system in, and you just don't think [a robbery's] going to happen that quick. It's just sad," Stratton said.
On the night of the home invasion, the couple had gone to bed about 11 p.m., with their two Chihuahuas close by. She and her husband must have been in a deep sleep, she said, because they hadn't heard anyone in the house until they were both awakened by someone yelling -- a robber with a black bandana tied over his nose and mouth. He pointed a handgun at their frightened faces.
"Give me all your cash!" demanded the man, who Stratton said was bigger than her husband.
"All that was running through my mind was, 'Oh my God! Is he going to kill me?'" Stratton said.
As their dogs barked, the couple fumbled through their wallets and scrounged up about $50 before they were led downstairs, where they found opened cupboards and wine missing from the wine cooler.
After a few minutes, the burglar, who had strapped on Stratton's camera, took off through the back door.
'Stronger than that'
On Wednesday, Stratton decided to surf Craigslist, the popular online classified-ad site, to see if the robber had listed some of their possessions to sell.
Sure enough, there was a Nikon D3000 that closely resembled the one her husband gave her two years ago. The strap was tied in knots to keep it from coming loose. The lens cover was blank, without the Nikon name on it because the original cover had been lost during a recent trip to California and replaced with a generic cover, she said.
Stratton found her stolen MacBook online, too. Both were listed as "literally brand new" and only for serious cash buyers, she said.
"It was too good to be true," Stratton said.
She contacted the Anoka County Sheriff's Office, and later that day, an undercover officer met with the teen seller at the McDonald's restaurant on Bluebird Street in Andover under the guise of buying the camera, according to Anoka County Sheriff's Cmdr. Paul Sommer. The detective confirmed through the serial number that the camera belonged to Stratton.
The teen was arrested, and a handgun was recovered from his car's glove compartment.
"The juvenile suspect's parents were shocked by the allegations, but were cooperative with the detectives," Sommer said in a statement.
Detectives went to the teen's home and found more items taken during the robbery, as well as a second handgun. The Anoka County attorney's office will review the case for possible charges.
The mental image of the gun held over her head still scares Stratton and keeps her from sleeping in her bed, she said. But now, armed with a security system and firearms of their own, Stratton and her husband have no plans to move, she said.
"We built the house. It means a lot to us. ... We want to be stronger than that and not let him take everything from us."
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495