Marie VanRemortel was going door-to-door in her Mountain Shadows neighborhood Thursday and Friday to rally folks on Champagne Drive and Ramsgate Terrace to join her in a new Neighborhood Watch group.
She also called Colorado Springs Police to arrange for an officer to come to a meeting and help organize the group.
VanRemortel launched herself into action after she was victimized by a con artist she met earlier Thursday.
The episode left her shaken. She was shocked at her own gullibility, worried about the vulnerability of herself and others and determined to protect as many neighbors as she could.
It started as she was painting furniture in her garage with her door open.
A stranger saw in her garage and walked up the driveway claiming he lived nearby and needed a ride to the American Legion. He was trying to get money to send to his wife in Fort Collins where she’d had a wreck.
The stranger convinced VanRemortel he was ex-military, like her husband, and a neighbor.
“He was so convincing,” she said. “He totally had me.”
Before she knew it, VanRemortel was driving the man to an American Legion Post near Austin Bluffs Parkway and Academy Boulevard where he could collect some cash.
He came out of the building empty-handed, however, with an explanation he’d missed the cash-disbursement officer.
So she drove him home and gave him some cash, dropping him in front of the house where he said he lived.
But then she noticed something that bothered her.
“As I drove away, I noted that he did not attempt to enter the house but just stood out on the porch talking on his cellphone,” VanRemortel said. “He then walked around the side of the house but did not go into the house.”
She told her husband of the encounter when he got home from work and together they went back to the house. Finding no one, they looked up the block and saw the man talking to another neighbor in his driveway.
Before they could get there, the stranger and the neighbor were driving away.
So they returned to the house where she had dropped the stranger off earlier. The owners said the stranger did not, in fact, live there.
“I felt so stupid,” VanRemortel said.
Especially when she realized she’d been driving a con man around town with her 10-year-old son in the car.
“Giving him money, being duped doesn’t bother me as much as knowing I had my son with me,” she said. “That’s the scariest part.”
“You bet it could have ended tragically,” Moore told me. “That’s why you’ve got to know your neighbors.
“You’ve got to be careful. When somebody comes to your door, find out who they are. Don’t let them in your house. Don’t let them near you. Don’t accept them at face value.”
And if you are active in a Neighborhood Watch group, Moore said, you are less likely to be conned.
“If you know your neighbors, you are not going to befooled by somebody who says he lives in the neighborhood,” Moore said.
And that’s why VanRemortel is canvassing her neighborhood. She’s not going to let it happen again.
“There are some old Neighborhood Watch signs in the area,” she said. “We used to have a group. I want to get new signs. And get everyone’s contact information so we can reach them when something like this happens.”
She will get a great head start by attending a Neighborhood and Business Watch training session Moore has scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at the Police Department’s Gold Hill Division community room, 955 West Morena Ave.
It’s free, open to the public and a perfect introduction for people like VanRemortel who want to be block captains and need to know how a Neighborhood Watch group works.
Anyone with questions can call Moore at 444-7206.
Suddenly, VanRemortel is a believer in the value of knowing your neighbors.
“I am now determined to get to know all of my neighbors,” she said. “So they don’t fall for the same situation that I did.”