BOZEMAN - Aspen Washburn is a junior at Montana State University who was returning to her car in an on-campus parking lot after class on April 12 when she discovered it was stolen.
“First I thought I was just going crazy and just went to the wrong parking spot or something like that," said Washburn. "So I kind of traced around the whole parking lot, and after that, that's when I realized like, oh my goodness, my car is gone.”
Washburn says when she went to class that Wednesday she had locked her car.
“My car was locked too. It just happened to get broken into and stolen," said Washburn. "They started it with a screwdriver.”
She says her car was gone for about two weeks and was later found at an Albertson's parking lot in Billings. Police told Washburn they believe people were living out of her car.
"It was pretty thrashed," Washburn said. "There was paraphernalia and their drugs, trash. They stole all my personal items.”
Washburn thinks an incident like this could have been prevented if there were security cameras around campus.
“It would have been a lot easier to catch the criminals who stole my car. We haven't found them yet. It would have been a lot easier if we, you know, had video footage of them," said Washburn. “I just want to stress the importance of installing cameras here at MSU. I think it's definitely a big safety concern.”
University officials released this statement about the car theft and lack of cameras:
"The vehicle theft was reported to MSU police on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 12. The vehicle was recovered by the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office on April 22 and returned to its owner. The case remains under investigation.
Automobile theft is very rare on campus. According to the university's annual Security and Fire Safety Report for 2022, there was a single reported case in the past three years, prior to the April 12 incident. In contrast, 52 vehicle thefts have been reported to Gallatin County law enforcement since Jan. 1.
Parking lots at MSU are lit at night for safety, and there are routine patrols by University Police Department officers and campus parking enforcement. Parking lots in the daytime, such as when this crime took place, are busy places, and that too is a deterrent to crime.
MSU remains a safe campus and has invested in security cameras. They will be rolled out in the core of campus first, along the Malone Mall and the main north-south walking corridor, basically from Romney Hall to Rendezvous Dining Pavilion. We expect the installation of cameras in those areas to be mostly complete by the end of summer. Cameras for the parking lots will be considered in the near future."
Washburn said an incident like this, especially on her college campus, will stay with her.
“I've told all my friends about this and they're like, yeah, I constantly will double check if my car is locked," said Washburn. "I'm just, personally, like, scared now.”
If you have any information about Washburn's stolen car, please contact local law enforcement.