During an evening in November, an Atherton resident saw a "river" of water running down a neighbor's driveway.
The neighbor called the homeowner and police. In the flooded home, first responders found a bathtub faucet handle lying next to a safe.
Burglars had apparently entered the house and broken off the handle to use as a tool to try to open the safe. When the home began to flood from water leaking from the broken handle, a fire alarm sounded and the thieves fled.
The result? Mold, a home gutted after 16 hours of flooding and about $1 million in structural damage. Burglars also took about $20,000 of items stolen (mostly jewels).
The homeowners, Clary and Dean, are among the 28 families burglarized in town in 2021. It appears the case is tied to the string of burglaries tied to Chilean gang members, the couple and police said.
The Almanac agreed not to publish their last names due to their safety concerns.
Clary and Dean were on vacation during the break in and talked with a police officer over FaceTime to see the extent of the damage. Most of the items in the house were ruined, including Dean's two handmade guitars.
"How do I get back what I lost so I'm not forever injured?" Clary said. "We have the perseverance to recover."
As a result, she said they are more aware of their surroundings and are more prone to notice unusual cars and people in their neighborhood.
"We check our doors repeatedly now, and check strange sounds in the night," she said. "Sleeping … is with one eye open."
The pair now plan not to leave their home without activating their security system, even for a few minutes. They also added sensors to glass windows and doors.
At the time of the burglary, half the alarm system was activated since they had someone coming daily to check on the home, but not the alarm that would directly alert the police of a break in.
From neighbors calling them and police as soon as the flooding began to family members temporarily housing them, Clary and Dean said they were touched by the people who helped them.
Family and friends helped the two, who flew back from their trip early, to move personal items, even heavy furniture and damaged rugs.
"It changed our hearts and attitudes to a spirit of fight and resolve; we were on a mission to recover," Clary said. "I still get a little choked up. It’s really the kindness that does it to us; it's not feeling violated."
Home security cameras captured two women and a man breaking into the home through a window at the back of the house.
"Though we were devastated, it was comforting to know they were going to do what they could to catch the criminals," she said of the police. "The response reminded us that the spirit of our community will never be overcome by the darkness of criminal activity," Clary said. "We will have a heightened awareness for our safety. … The police would like us all to know they’re working to catch this ring of criminals; it can help by reporting all suspicious people."
Police believe that home burglaries over the last year in Atherton — including the theft of $800,000 worth of jewelry reported stolen from a home on Dec. 8, 2020 — are linked to a crime spree in town in 2018 by members of a Chilean gang operating out of Southern California.
Police are analyzing items found through a search warrant.
"I would say it appears this burglary is connected with the rest of the burglaries we have had, but I cannot say anything definitive until the search warrant returns are received and looked through," said Atherton police Sgt. Anthony Kockler in an email.
Police plan to host a community meeting with residents about the burglaries on Feb. 16.