For three days, a 3-year-old boy had been saying there was “a man with a light” outside his window at night.
But his parents assumed the man was just a figment of the boy’s imagination. “I thought, obviously he’s just had a bad dream,” said his mother, children’s author Melissa Rodrigues.
On June 26, he woke them again.
“At 5.30 in the morning he let out an absolutely gut-wrenching scream from his room,” Rodrigues said. “I knew something wasn’t right.”
Her son led his father outside at their Waikanae home, north of Wellington, where they found footprints in the frost and their gate wide open.
A couple of extension cords and a toolbox had gone missing previously, Rodrigues said.
The family called police, and spent the next day exploring security options.
CCTV was too costly, so the couple used an old smartphone to download an app called Salient Eye, which overrides the phone’s camera to capture images whenever it senses motion. It then emails the images to the owner.
That night the couple rigged up the phone to their garage window opposite the house, sent their son to his grandmother’s house, then hunkered down in the lounge for an all-night stakeout.
They left the porch light on, as they doubted the phone’s camera could capture anything in the dark, and half expected the light would deter their night visitor.
But about 4.40am stop-motion photos from the app began flooding into Rodrigues’ email, showing the family someone was outside at that moment, reaching over their porch.
“It gave me the shock of a lifetime because, even though I was waiting for it, I wasn’t expecting to see him,” she said.
She called police, who appeared shortly after in her garden, with a dog, in images still being live-streamed into her phone.
Indoors, she and her husband watched the drama unfold as police popped in and out of their house to check the footage.
“We were sitting in the house watching it all through the app. It was brilliant,” Rodrigues said.
“I was talking to the police saying ‘OK, someone’s just run across our backyard,’ then telling them, ‘Oh, sorry, it’s just your policeman’.”
Senior Sergeant Anita Dixon, of Kapiti Mana, said a 15-year-old who was well known to police had been referred to youth aid for stealing cigarette butts.
“This incident was able to be sorted out very quickly, thanks to the excellent information supplied by the family, and the police working quickly, together with the help of the mobile phone app.”
There had not been any other similar incidents in the Waikanae area, Dixon said.
However, Rodrigues said there were elderly people in the neighbourhood who told her of noises in the night, and of garden items going missing. “I hope it’s brought them a little bit of peace of mind.”