ARLINGTON -- These teenage girls rummaging through dresses and shoes can hardly contain their glee. They're going to prom Saturday.

But what a dozens of them won't be wearing is jewelry. A thief recently broke into Mary's House, an Arlington non-profit day center for special needs adults, and took the donated items.

'Our sign has a girl in a wheelchair,' said Michelle Mills, executive director of Mary's House. 'How can you steal from these special kids?'

About 250 special needs individuals are expected to attend the prom, which is being held Saturday evening at the Bob Duncan Center.

The thief broke in March 7, but center officials said it wasn't until a couple of days ago that they realized that the thief had absconded with the costume jewelry when they went looking for it as they prepared for the prom.

Surveillance video shows a man rifling through a storage area for about 30 minutes. He strolls about nonchalantly. He triggered a burglar alarm when he tried to jimmy a back door. Then, he simply walked away.

'I see this guy come down the side of the bus,' said Michelle's husband, Richard Mills. 'He knows exactly where he's going and he goes right in the shed and just starts going through all the boxes and he starts opening doors. I'd say he's in there for a good 30 minutes.'

For Richard and Michelle Mills, their work truly is a labor of love. She worked as a high school special education teacher and she said she began wondering what happens to special needs people after high school.

She and her husband, Richard, both quit their jobs about five years ago and started Mary's House. It's named after Michelle's sister, who died of spina bifida decades ago. They now have two centers in Arlington.

The Mills also have guardianship over 27-year-old Bryan Privett, who has autism.

'Bryan was a student in my high school class at South Grand Prairie High School,' Michelle Mills said. 'He was about to age of high school and I really worried about him getting lost in the system and what would happen to him.'

Privett, who greets strangers with a bright and friendly smile, has lived with them for seven years.

The Mills run their operation on a razor-thin budget and rely on the kindness of donors. So they find it particularly disturbing that someone would steal from them.

'It's really heart breaking that someone would steal donations from these guys,' Michelle Mills said.


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