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Open Letters to Entities Unlikely to Respond

Open Letter to a Thief

Angela Kim

Just two months ago, someone broke into Weekend America producer Angela Kim's apartment while she was away. Everything was taken, including her computer and two backup hard drives. Along with many possessions, six years of digital memories are suddenly gone. Angela wonders how she can regain what was lost.


Dear Thief,

You know this part already.

On the evening of July 30, I came home. I walked in and it felt strange, but I didn't know why. Nothing seemed to be out of place - until I went to check my email. My laptop was gone. I looked beside it, and both of my backup hard drives were missing too. I ran to the other rooms and looked at my bookshelf and saw that my recording equipment and camera were gone as well.

The police said there were no signs of forced entry. I got a chill. I never lend anyone my apartment keys. How did you get in?

My camera case was where I left it, but all the contents were gone. You took the time to put things back and carefully chose.

I didn't sleep that night. I kept all the lights on and called my friend because you'd made me feel alone and vulnerable. I was more scared than angry that night.

The next morning I was going over a mental list of things you took, and suddenly I felt sick. "My pictures!" I thought.

In the last six years, I've amassed hundreds of photographs digitally. I saved my prized possessions in three places: My computer and my two backup hard-drives.

You took them all.

I've started asking my friends if they have any photos to replace the ones I lost.

"Well, I don't have any pictures because you take all the pictures," says my friend Thao. She's been searching but found something else in the process: "I realized you were the one who has been documenting our entire more than a decade friendship."

She's right. Within my circle of friends, I'm the photographer.

Thao and I started to talk about our adventures, and she remembered the time we were in London.

"We must have looked like the most amused girls in the world. Like we were taking pictures of us on a bus. We were like so happy." Now, Thao says of those pictures, "They are gone."

But are they really gone? What did you do with them? For the last two months, I've kept hoping the police will call and say they found my stuff. I even check Craigslist, hoping you posted my things to sell.

But as time goes by, the worst part isn't the missing electronics or the photos - it's how you've managed to insert yourself into my memories.

My memories are changing because of what you did. Now when I reminiscence, my emotions turn from nostalgia to anger and loss: You've somehow attached yourself to my happy moments.

There's one picture I do have. I found it on an attachment to an old email - it's a group picture from my friend Priya's wedding last year. It was the last time that my childhood friends and I were together. Julie flew in from the Philippines, Rajani came in from New York. I remember Priya looked like a princess - her magenta sari was covered with crystals that would shimmer when the lights hit it. I probably took over a hundred photos that day. But now I just have this one.

"When I was looking for pictures for you it was great to just come across the few that I had," says my friend Mike. He's trying to make me feel better. "They're not memories you think about on an everyday basis, but if you just see one picture with no words or description, it's like I remember that time."

I'm glad Mike's photos bring back old memories, but it won't ever be the same for me. The photos I get from friends will be fragments from the past. And the pictures and memories in these photos will be from their point of view - not mine.

I could have posted my photos online or stored them on a server, but they're my photos. I didn't want strangers looking at them. I lost that privacy anyway, thanks to you.

Each day I pray and hope that I'll get my sense of security back and that I'll have my photos returned to me. But I've begun to lose that hope.

I'm writing to you because I want my memories back. And if you erased them and sold my things, I want to know why you did it.

I wish I could say that what you did has made me a stronger person, but I'd be lying. I'm still dealing with putting together the remnants of my past. And making sense of why this happened.

I just hope one day I can come to peace with what you did to me.

More stories from our Open Letters to Entities Unlikely to Respond series


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Elladora Madley

    From CA, 10/15/2008

    Whether being a victim of several break-ins or your first break in, I think we all loose a sense of security in our surrounding, the home you thought was so secure and safe, just doesn't seem so anymore. She did back up her fotos, in 2 backup hard drives... I think that's the most that we do these days, back up info on a physical location... I don't know how she could have foreseen that her backups would fail or be stolen, and place them somewhere else. She lost her memories, her happy memories... shouldn't we cut her some slack at that, if someone came and corrupted your happy memories wouldn't you be upset. Stop belittling her emotions.

    By Marc Naimark

    From Paris, YT, 10/12/2008

    I think you're quite harsh on this woman. Yes, almost any bad thing that happens to us is not as bad as something worse. That doesn't make that bad thing any less bad. * Now for my harshness... I avoid saying "you should have" to victims of crime, but Ms. Kim does invite this by saying that she didn't host her photos online because she didn't want to share them. There are any number of sites that allow you to protect access to your photos and share them as you choose. You could have also stored those backup hard disks elsewhere. I'm not writing this to criticize you, but to remind myself that I should be doing these things...

    By Louise Lennon


    You are right, there is a lot of frightening atrocities going on in the world. It's very scary. And you are right, it could have been a whole lot worse. But her life, her thoughts, her possessions are real to her. her experiences are the realest thing in her life. We don't know what kind of hardships she's gone through. I pray for her continued safety. And I pray that we all keep the world in perspective.

    By Keith Rosenthal


    While listening to your story I couldn't help but think that you have most likely not experienced many real hardships in your life. I too have had things stolen from me. However, these are experiences that I lament, but at the same time ultimately give me a sense of gratefulness that what was taken from me were only possessions. People are dying and truly suffering every day. To air such intense emotion about this unfortunate theft of your pictures in a public forum seems kind of inappropriate when there are people listening that are facing real problems.

    By Reg Choy

    From Washington, DC, DC, 10/04/2008

    As the victim of several break-ins over the years, I certainly empathize. And while I'm not one to blame the victim, I couldn't help but find annoyance at the hyperbolic tone of your letter. Have you ever considered how many physically traumatic crimes are committed against people in this country (let alone your city) every day? Thank God you weren't assaulted or raped. I also find it ironic that your story (including your statement: 'I want to know why you did it') came shortly after a piece in Detroit about the correlation between petty theft and the declining economy. Best of luck in the future but keep things in perspective.

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