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Originally published February 23, 2012 at 8:06 PM | Page modified February 24, 2012 at 4:58 PM

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When tragedy strikes — and thieves quickly follow

Are we "losing the battle on having a decent human existence"? Two incidents make you wonder.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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John Milanoski is the spiritual one, quick with the benefit of the doubt.

"I don't judge anybody," he told me, "because I haven't walked in their shoes."

Max Milanoski isn't feeling that same goodwill about the person who burglarized the home of their brother, Karl, 41, not even a day after he was swept off a cliff in an avalanche near Alpental.

"I like to think there is a special place in hell for someone who would do that," Max said the other day. "I don't see how somebody could be that low."

Max, 35, learned of his brother's death at 2:30 Sunday afternoon.

"In denial," as he put it, he went to his brother's house near Green Lake to try to process the news.

"I was trying to enjoy the last bit of his surroundings," Max Milanoski said.

He stayed until midnight.

When he returned the next day at 10 a.m., Max found his brother's bedroom window smashed in and several items taken, including an Xbox belonging to Karl Milanoski's 11-year-old daughter, Amirah.

Max Milanoski suspects that someone who knew his brother read about his death on Facebook, knew the house would be empty, and took the kind of liberties few of us can fathom.

"There are fewer and fewer decent people all the time," Max Milanoski said. "I think we're losing the battle on having a decent human existence."

I don't want to believe him, but it's hard not to these days.

Consider Morgan Quiroz, who was visiting the Space Needle on Monday when someone broke into his car at a Seattle Center parking lot and stole, among other things, a book his wife gave him last Christmas — just two weeks before she died of cancer.

The book, called "Under the Same Moon," is made by Hallmark, and allowed Maggie May Quiroz, 31, to record herself reading to her husband.

"It was the last gift she gave me," Morgan Quiroz said. "The last thing of her voice I had."

Two Mac laptops and a backpack also were stolen, he said, "but that book is irreplaceable."

What to make of all this? It's not like people aren't thinking — it's just that they're thinking only of themselves. Not of the grieving family, the children and husbands left behind, or how a shattered bedroom window can send a cold wind through all of us.

They're just things, but when they hold special meaning, or are taken with such cold-heartedness, your heart drops. Fast.

"Hell in a handbasket," a colleague muttered the other morning. That's saying something in a newsroom, where we often are at our best when things go wrong.

The impulse is to find some greater meaning — somewhere.

John Milanoski, 43, thinks the burglary of his late brother's home reflects the financial times we're living in.

"People have been burned so much," he said. "They don't know who to trust and they're desperately looking for solutions."

He hopes that whatever was taken from his brother's house "solves some dire need." (To help the family, go to www.johnmilanoski.com and click on the "wepay" button).

"Our first reaction is to get upset, but you have to realize that there could be something big going on there."

Max Milanoski doesn't believe any of that. He believes in karma.

"Whoever took what they needed from my brother after he passed, well, I hope they get what's coming to them in the end," he said. "To know that someone did this. It's ... beyond me."

Quiroz, 31, who lives in San Jose, is a youth pastor whose faith has taught him that people are inherently good, but that circumstances change them.

"It's just a shame that people make decisions in their lives that cause so much pain for others."

What helps, he said, is to see how people responded to a television-news report about the theft.

Complete strangers have expressed their condolences, and at least two people have offered $100 rewards for the return of Quiroz's book.

"It all gives me hope."

He's way ahead of me. All I can think of is what's been taken after so much loss.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

If you find any of it, let me know.

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