ELLERBE — When Lee Berry was alerted that his business was being broken into Tuesday night, he was furious.
But his anger turned to sympathy when he arrived and saw the alleged culprit.
According to Berry, the alarm at the Berry Patch was triggered when a 14-year-old boy, who had ran away from a foster home, broke the glass on the main serving window of “The World’s Largest Strawberry.”
Berry said the teen had cut himself climbing through the window and was surprised he didn’t injure himself any more, considering the drop to the floor.
The Electronics Service Company alarm was reported to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and nearby deputies, who Berry said had been out looking for the teen, responded.
Berry said he was watching a live feed from the security camera and could see the boy walking around inside the strawberry structure.
The teen had turned the lights on, but quickly shut them off when the first deputy arrived, Berry said.
He added that deputies caught the boy eating from a 5-pound bag of M&Ms.
“You could see it in his eyes,” Berry said, pointing to a picture on his cellphone, “he was scared to death.”
According to an incident report, the break-in occurred before 9 p.m. Estimated damage to the window was $500 and the bag of M&Ms, which was later thrown away, was valued at $5.
“I told him I wasn’t mad at him,” Berry continued. “I told him I’m still upset, but I’m not mad at him anymore…(and that) I’d pray for him.”
The last thing Berry said he told the teen was that he would make himself available if the boy wanted to talk.
He added that he was “real impressed” with the customer service of the sheriff’s office.
“The (deputies) really talked to this boy in a respectful manner,” he said. “They tended to his needs very well.”
This is the fourth time in 15 years the Berry Patch has been broken into, according to Berry.
He posted the news of the break-in on his Facebook page Tuesday night and said he received a message from Judy Cagle at Rockingham Paint and Glass about fixing the window, which was done in about an hour.
Berry said the teen’s foster parents stopped by the Berry Patch Wednesday to ask about an estimate, but he said he wasn’t “going to charge anybody anything.”
“I hate it for him,” Berry said. “Everybody makes mistakes one time, and hopefully this is his only one.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.