American High School break-in on April 1, photo courtesy of Fremont Police Department
As Fremont continues to “shelter-in-place,” a number of schools across FUSD have fallen victim to vandalism and break-in cases. American High School, Kennedy High School, and six junior high and elementary schools were targeted.
Besides Kennedy High School and American High School, Walters Middle School, Mission San Jose Elementary School, and Glankler Early Learning Center were targeted between March 19 and April 1. Centerville Junior High School and Brier Elementary School were also targeted during that time, both with two incidents each. Officers from the Fremont Police Department believe that these nine cases involved the same suspect.
On April 2, the suspect connected to the nine cases was arrested and charged with “numerous property crimes including multiple counts of commercial burglary, committing a burglary during a State of Emergency, possession of stolen property, possession of a firearm, felony evading, and a probation violation,” according to the Fremont Police Department Public Information Officer. In a press release by the Fremont Police Department on April 10, the suspect already had a lengthy criminal history and was on probation for two other incidents prior to this string of burglaries. Under new custody laws due to COVID-19, the suspect was released into his own recognizance following the court arraignment after the vandalism.
Regarding a second incidence of vandalism at American High School, Fremont Police investigators do not believe there is any connection to the previously mentioned string of school burglaries. According to an April 2 news release by the Fremont Police Department, damage at American High School was caused by four Fremont teens who allegedly broke in on April 1 after a two-day crime spree around a nearby neighborhood. After being caught in the act by a construction crew, the group ran off but was later arrested. When officers examined American High School, they found that the group had set fire to and punctured numerous holes in the walls, pulled a projector from the ceiling, poured glue over the exterior of a classroom, and had an unloaded semi-automatic firearm in their possession. The Fremont Police Department later interviewed and released the group to their parents after requesting the teens be charged with several counts of burglary, attempted burglary, possession of a firearm, and vandalism.
FUSD will not be taking any action in regards to pressing charges against the teenagers. “Whenever there is a property-related crime where items are stolen or there is damage to a school, the State’s Attorney will seek monetary damages on the district’s behalf,” Associate Superintendent Marcus Battle said.
In another similar incident, MSJ was vandalized earlier this year in late February. Graffiti was found near four different rooms around campus after a custodian noticed and reported the incident to the administration. School Resource Officer Mike Cordero wrote a report and took photographs before the maintenance department quickly covered up the graffiti. However, there are no leads to the suspect. In regards to whether or not this event and more recent ones are connected, Principal Jeff Evans said, “I don’t believe there is any connection between the two … but we are staying vigilant by checking the campus regularly.”
“[The “shelter-in-place” order] gives a false sense that there’s nobody at the school, but there are still people working [there] … The general public thinks that that’s an easy target, and that’s why [school]s got a lot of attention,” School Resource Unit Sergeant Michael Rodriguez said. Additionally, Battle said, “What we have noticed is that when things get tougher in society (i.e. jobs, unemployment, and etc.) we tend to see an increase in property-related crimes such as vandalism and break-ins.” The FUSD and the Fremont Police Department urge community members to stay vigilant around school sites between 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and to report any suspicious activity to the police.
Moving forward, FUSD will be taking measures to increase security and visibility on school campuses to prevent further vandalism and burglaries. Battle said, “[FUSD] has also increased its collaboration and coordination with the Fremont Police Department. Our security company, Atlas [Private] Security, in coordination with Bay Alarm Security [has] agreed to pilot a motion detection camera system at several sites [that] have had repeated break-ins.”