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Simple steps can help prevent home invasion

By Philip Rosenbaum, "Nancy Grace" Producer
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Deadly home invasion in Connecticut
  • Connecticut murders highlight dangers of home invasion
  • Be aware of surroundings at all times, private investigator advises
  • Install solid-core doors, and don't open them to strangers
  • Work out security plans with family

New York (CNN) -- As the trial continues for one of two men accused in the gruesome home invasion and murder of a doctor's wife and two daughters in Connecticut, shocking details make many wonder how to keep their homes safer from intruders.

"The first thing you should do is realize -- be aware of your surroundings at all times," Tom Shamshak, a private investigator, said Wednesday on HLN's "Nancy Grace."

Home invasion, when robbers force their way into an occupied house or apartment, is an especially frightening crime since we see our homes as our safe havens from the outside world. Although total security is only an ideal, there are some measures you can take to prevent it from happening.

Here are some tips from

• Always lock doors, windows and garages.

• Make sure home entrances are well-lighted, and minimize bushes where intruders can hide before their ambush.

• Use the peephole before opening the door to anyone.

• Don't use the chain latch to open the door part-way.

• Don't open the door to solicitors or strangers.

• Install solid-core doors, heavy-duty locks and window security systems.

• Have a family meeting to work out home security plans.

Burglars tend to commit their crimes during the day, when residents are likely to be out. Home invaders more frequently do it at night or on weekends, sometimes targeting residents as well as the home and valuables inside.

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  • Robbery
  • William Petit
  • Nancy Grace

Often, robbers have been in the home as contractors, delivery people or salesmen, meaning they may know the basic layout before the crime even begins. Home invaders usually work in teams of two or more and use overwhelming force to gain control and create fear in their victims, says.

They have been known to kick open doors, go through garages or ring doorbells. To gain entry, they may make up a story about an accident or say they have a package to deliver.

At higher risk are women who live alone, wealthy families and senior citizens, says. An expensive car or jewelry may entice would-be home invaders to follow a targeted victim home from a store, gym or other public place, according to the website.

In the Connecticut case, prosecutors say, the victims were randomly chosen after one of the defendants saw them in the parking lot of a Stop & Shop grocery store earlier in the day.

"Personal crime prevention needs to be practiced on a daily basis. Before you get out of your car, look around to make sure that there's nothing suspicious there. And if there is, call 911," Shamshak said. "At night, when you're leaving a mall, have somebody from the security escort you out to your automobile."

Steven Hayes, 47, and Joshua Komisarjevsky, 30, are accused of beating and tying up Dr. William Petit while taking his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and their two daughters hostage. Authorities say they sexually assaulted Hawke-Petit and the 11-year-old girl.

Hawke-Petit was strangled, and the girls died of smoke inhalation after the attackers poured gasoline throughout the home and set it on fire, prosecutors say.