By Elaine Forman
Mari Weber has gone from being a victim to a "mom on a mission," after two of the family vehicles were stolen early Sunday morning. The two thefts were part of a rash of vehicle thefts where at least 14 vehicles have been stolen from Miles City, Forsyth, Billings, Terry, Glendive and Baker within weeks. They have been found wrecked in fields and driven in rivers.
All of the vehicles were unlocked and had the keys in them.
Two Miles City teens: one juvenile and 18-year-old Stephen Anthony Russo, were arrested for driving a stolen car at the Forsyth High School parking lot early Sunday morning. They are not believed to be the ones who took Weber's pickups.
Law enforcement agencies from each area, plus the Montana Department of Criminal Investigation, are involved in the investigation.
For Mari, it was a little after midnight when the Forsyth mom of five heard the dog barking but she didn't go find out why.
Shortly before 8 a.m. the family discovered their pickups — a 2002 Chevrolet Silverado and a 2001 GMC Sierra — were gone. The two pickups were parked in front of their home.
"It was a moment of disbelief," she said. At first she thought it was a prank, since her husband, Scott, is a high school coach.
"As it sunk in I was so angry — blinding rage," she said.
Shortly afterward her son, Matthew, found the Silverado abandoned in the city limits and out of gas. Mari was thankful there was so little gas in the tank when it was taken, and she became hopeful that they would soon find the second pickup.
Sunday afternoon it was found on Deadman Road, north of Miles City, along with a car stolen from Billings. The vehicles appeared to have been involved in a head-on collision.
She said the thieves had trashed the pickup, then used the car as a "battering ram" to plow into the pickup.
"I went from disbelief, to real anger, then a sense of loss. I felt so helpless. Then sadness came," she said.
Her oldest son Brandon, 17, had gone to more than 31 brandings during the summer and laid irrigation pipe to earn the money to fix up the pickup. The tires and wheels were a week old, it had a 4 or 4-1/2 lift kit, new exhaust pipes and more.
Some electronics were taken, and all of Brandon's school stuff and football equipment had been found by the Yellowstone River.
"Everything was damaged," she said.
On Wednesday afternoon Weber said she hadn't slept since Sunday except a cat nap here or there. Whenever there is the slightest noise she gets up. Wide awake, she does laundry, "and I guard. I know it sounds silly and I know it is silly, and I know better because I really don't think they are stupid enough to come back again."
But yet she waits.
"It has so affected us as a family. Yes, there are bad people out there. The bogey man does exist. (The family) sleeps and I'm awake because this won't happen again. That's my mentality right now," she said. "And I'm tired. I want to be able to close my eyes and feel secure and know that when I wake up in the morning my children are in bed and my property is intact. I've lost that."
Mari said in her sons' world, this is the worst thing that's happened to them. Before there wasn't a lot of concern about locks in her house, but now the boys are checking windows and locking the door behind them when they come home from school.
She jokes that her husband, a former Navy SEAL, wants to encourage the thieves to come back because they are waiting for them.
You raise your children to know right from wrong, Weber said. The five boys, ranging in ages from 11 to 17, are fighting mad, "but they know better.” Nevertheless, they are angry and upset.
The pickup had only liability insurance, so the Webers are out the money.
Though the pickup had a few years on it, it had many upgrades, and it will cost $15,000-18,000 to replace.
Mom on a mission
Mari refuses to be a victim. She wants justice.
"We have to remember that at the end of the day (the people who took the vehicles) are just kids, but — with that being said — there are consequences to their actions and they must be held accountable for them," she said. "I'm not looking for revenge, and this is not some kind of vendetta or vigilante thing, but for me as a mom this has shaken me to the core because those vehicles were parked 30 feet from where my children slept. ... As a parent, I have overwhelming guilt of not being able to protect my property.
"I understand it's just a pickup. It's just material. No one got physically hurt in our family. ... but my sense of security, in my home where I should feel safest, has been shattered," she said.
She explained that this wasn't something that just happened to her family, and it didn't just happen in Forsyth, but all over eastern Montana.
"It's going to take a community to say enough. No! This is not acceptable," she said.
Her mission is to appeal to someone who knows something, someone who may have gotten in over his or her head that night and regrets it.
"Someone has to have a conscience and a sense of decency," Weber said. "I'm giving that person the benefit of doubt. ... If they would just man up and take responsibility for their actions."
So she has made fliers to distribute in the large area affected by the thefts, "because someone knows something," she said. She is going to be active and have the pickup where it can be easily viewed to keep people talking.
Weber believes once the people involved start talking, "everyone is going down. Be smart ...... do something...... do the right thing," she said to those responsible, urging them to come forward.
"I'm not coming with both guns. I just want justice. I feel that by doing what I'm doing and staying active, I'm letting people know that I'm not going anywhere. This has given me back empowerment. I feel empowered — little bit by little bit. I gain a little bit of that security back because this I CAN control," she said.
"I believe now I'm like a miniature pit bull. I've taken my first bite, and you are going to need the jaws of life to make me give up this fight. ... I got my teeth sunk in pretty good," she said.
She recommends whoever is involved come forward and go to the local law enforcement agency, and she will be sympathetic in her victim's statement. She asks the parents to ask the hard questions of their children.
She asks anyone who knows anything to contact the Custer County Sheriff's Office and Miles City Police Department at 232-3411, the Rosebud County Sheriff at 346-2715, or any of the local jurisdictions.
If any of the other vehicle owners want to speak to Weber, they can contact her on Facebook.
Published October 3, 2012