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Editorial: Singular act of thievery

Thieves in Northampton picked a surprising target Saturday when they stole a cashbox from four 11- and 12-year-old Girls Scouts selling cookies during the first weekend of their organization’s signature annual fundraiser.

The alleged thieves made off with $392, authorities say, but stealing money from cookie sales is no get-rich scheme. After all, how much could the Scouts have taken in after just a few hours of selling boxes of Thin Mints, Samoas, Savannah Smiles and Do-si-dos at $4 a pop? That is in part why the crime seems surprising; a cookie money box doesn’t seem like the most lucrative target for thieves.

There’s also something pitifully desperate about robbing four Girl Scouts — and that’s likely why the Gazette account of the incident was the most-read news story on GazetteNET after it was posted Sunday night.

We can imagine readers shaking their heads in disbelief. Say what? They stole from Girl Scouts? Isn’t that a little like stealing a purse from a little old lady with a cane?

Luckily for the authorities, the girls had set up shop in the lobby of the Wal-Mart on North King Street in Northampton. A video surveillance camera there helped police identify and arrest two suspects in the case by Tuesday morning, about 48 hours after the robbery.

Police say the suspects stole two cellphones from Wal-Mart earlier on Saturday, then drove to Holyoke, where they tried unsuccessfully to exchange the phones for drugs.

The two men returned to Wal-Mart, police say, with a plan to steal from the girls. One of them struck up a conversation with one of the Girl Scouts, then reached over the table, grabbed the cashbox and ran to a car where the second suspect was waiting.

A parent supervising the girls took off after the man, and wound up getting his hand stuck in the car window as the vehicle drove off. The parent was dragged across the Wal-Mart parking lot before his hand came free. He was treated at Cooley Dickinson Hospital for injuries to his face, hands and arms.

After an investigation that involved studying the store’s security camera footage, police arrested Cassidy Michalski, 35, of Deerfield, and Nicholas Taverna, 22, of Greenfield. The men pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Northampton District Court to charges of unarmed robbery (the money box), shoplifting over $100 (the cellphones) and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (the incident with the car).

And so the wheels of the criminal justice system churn on for this case, even as Girl Scouts continue to sell their cookies over the coming weeks, as they do every year.

Meanwhile, Girl Scout leadership is taking steps to make sure these young girls, victims of a crime, are getting the support they need.

What lessons can the Girl Scouts learn?

First, it’s a good thing that Scouts have adult chaperones on hand when they sell cookies.

Second, while the impulse to chase a thief is understandable, we think it would have been better for the chaperone on hand Saturday to simply let the thieves be on their way, and leave the matter to the authorities.

A lesson we hope is not internalized, however, is the sense that people cannot be trusted.

Yes, apparently two people acted rashly and out of desperation. But the vast majority of people walking by the Scouts’ cookie tables are honest, fair and even helpful — among the qualities found in the Girl Scout Law. The Girl Scouts’ renowned commitment to such ideals need not be shaken by one ugly incident.

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