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Faces of an epidemic

Crime victim: 'We felt safer than we really were'

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Crime victim: 'We felt safer than we really were'

Patrice Underwood at her Danvers home, which was robbed about a year and a half ago. Police suspect the burglar, who punched Underwood, was an addict.

Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 7, 2005.

DANVERS — A year and a half ago, a drug-addicted burglar punched Patrice Underwood in the face three times in her own driveway, while her 9-year-old daughter looked on from the family car.

"She saw everything," Underwood said. "She was so upset. I was trying to hold it together so she wouldn't be hysterical."

The girl later told her mother she wanted to learn to defend herself. Today she takes karate lessons. 

The Underwood home sits on a peaceful street alongside Danvers High School and a playground, the perfect family neighborhood. But heroin has reached here, too.

On the morning of April 21, 2003, Underwood pulled into her driveway with her daughter at 9 a.m. and saw a man carrying her jewelry box. She jumped out of her car and instinctively rushed at him, and the man began punching her. Then he sped away in his car with the box and a wad of cash, leaving her bloodied and shaken. 

Police credited Underwood with the eventual capture of Michael Boucher, 31, of Lynn. She had memorized his description and license plate number. Police found Boucher, who would later be charged with other North Shore burglaries, hiding behind a tree not far from Underwood's home. He had wrecked his car on a stone wall.

In July 2003, a judge sentenced Boucher to a maximum-security prison in Walpole, where he will spend at least six years and as many as 10 — plus seven more on probation after that. 

Police had a hunch Boucher's crime was drug-driven. The robbery occurred on a Monday morning. Often, police told Underwood, addicts spend their money over the weekend and start breaking into homes early on Monday to pay for their next fix. 

But when Underwood pulled into her driveway that day and rushed at the stranger, drugs never crossed her mind. A nurse at Salem Hospital, she has treated many people for drug overdoses. 

Although Underwood's jewelry box was returned, police never found the $158 that Underwood had earned selling homemade chocolate pops — a side job to benefit the North Shore Cancer Walk. 

There are other things that were never recovered. 

"We felt we were safer than we really were," Underwood said. That sense of security is now gone. 

Today, the new family dog, Ginger, barks wildly at strangers who visit the home.