by: Richard Thompson Updated:
OLYMPIA, Wash. - A 41-year-old certified nursing assistant at an Olympia Alzheimer's care facility has been arrested, accused of stealing wedding rings off vulnerable residents’ fingers.
Olympia police told KIRO 7 they believe nursing assistant Kerrina Koch has at least six victims and possibly many more at the Garden Courte Memory Care Community on Lilly Road in Olympia.
Police said the thefts were discovered when a woman who visits her husband at the facility daily noticed his wedding ring and another ring were missing. The woman's husband, who has dementia, told her a nurse had taken the rings, telling him she was going to clean them, but never returned the jewelry.
An Olympia detective said he obtained a list of employees from the facility and discovered one of those employees, Koch, had been pawning the jewelry at area pawnshops.
A police search of Koch's home in Tenino led to the recovery of many of the stolen items, which included rings, necklaces and pendants. Unfortunately, not all the jewelry will get back to its rightful owners, according to Laura Wohl from the Olympia Police Department.
"Some of the jewelry won't be able to be returned because the stones were removed, and then the jewelry itself was melted down," said Wohl.
Koch has worked for Garden Courte since 2009. She had no criminal history and passed a background check before being hired, according to officials at the facility.
Heidi McKay's grandparents are residents at Garden Courte. She said she was angry to learn a staff member is accused of stealing from residents.
“It's awful to take advantage of elderly people, especially memory-loss victims. They don't even know their things are missing,” said McKay.
McKay said the crime is a huge betrayal of trust.
"You’re trusting these people to take care of them, and you don't want them to be hurt while they are in here,” she said.
Koch was arrested on suspicions of first-degree theft.
Officials at Garden Courte Memory Care Community said Koch has been fired.
Ellen Kjesbu spoke to KIRO 7 after visiting a close friend who is a resident at the facility. When told that a nursing assistant is accused of stealing rings right off of residents fingers Kjebu just shook her head in disgust saying, "She should be ashamed of herself."