SAN LEANDRO, Calif. (KRON) — A group of students that were brought to California to inspire bigger dreams were the victims of a smash-and-grab robbery at an In-N-Out parking lot in San Leandro.
Alan Bronowicz and Steve Douglass, founders of the Cultivating Hope Foundation, brought a group of eight students to the Bay Area in order to “inspire them to dream bigger.” On June 8, day one of the CHF trip, the students had just traveled to local incubator Plug and Play and the Reyes Coca Cola bottling plant. After hearing recommendations from locals on which area would be safest to travel to, the group piled into their two rented SUVs and headed to an In-N-Out on the corner of Lewelling and Hesperian Boulevards in San Leandro at around 5:45 p.m.
While they were waiting for their food, “a security guard came in — not with a lot of urgency we must say — but kinda came in and said, ‘Oh are those your SUVs? Because they just got smashed into,” Bronowicz said.
A witness at the scene was parked between the two SUVs. According to the witness, two suspects pulled up in a gray Ford Mustang and methodically smashed out the windows of the first SUV before stealing what they found inside. Next, the assailants got back into their car and made a lap around the parking lot before smashing out the windows of the second SUV. They were well-organized and “just went around like it was customary, like nothing was wrong,” Douglass told KRON4.
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The suspects were not deterred by onlookers or a crowded parking lot filled with daylight, because they made another round and broke into a third car in the lot before leaving. Douglass says that’s part of the problem, “The brashness and the boldness and the sense of entitlement that this is totally acceptable is just disgusting,” he told KRON4.
The assailants got away with over $18,000 worth of photography equipment, as well as some other small valuables. One of the students had his heirloom family bible in his backpack, which had been passed down to him from his father and had handwritten notes in the margins. Though this wasn’t the most expensive loss for the group, it was one of the most challenging.
Police told Douglass and Bronowicz that smash-and-grabs happen in that same parking lot nearly everyday, “they just feel like they can’t do anything about it.”
When the group returned their rental cars to Enterprise at the San Jose Airport, they learned that seven other cars had been returned that day due to smash-and-grabs. “That was a point of conversation with the kids. It’s really hard as a leader to translate and communicate that that is somehow acceptable,” Douglass said. Enterprise then sent the group to Oakland Airport to retrieve vehicles, but Enterprise in Oakland also said they didn’t have big enough SUVs available due to other smash-and-grabs in the area.
Douglass and Bronowicz worried how this experience would impact their students, “It was shocking to the kids … these kids who grow up in inner city Birmingham in a very challenging area,” Douglass said. He says this experience hit them closer to home.
Bronowicz and Douglass tried to make the experience an educational opportunity for their students saying, “You can learn from anything.” Though they believe the Bay Area is a place full of opportunity for students, they may think twice about how they travel in the city from now on, being careful never to leave valuables in their vehicles.
If you would like to learn more about Cultivating Hope Foundation, please visit their website.