The incident unfolded Wednesday at 3 a.m., when two El Cerrito police officers spotted a suspicious vehicle driving the wrong way on Portola Drive near the El Cerrito Community Center, police said. When officers drove after the car, it pulled over in front of Wilson Elementary and a passenger quickly exited. The vehicle fled the area and got away and officers went to search for the passenger.
During their search, officers heard fire alarms coming from school. With help from a Richmond police K-9 unit, 22-year-old Zachary Arifin of El Cerrito was found with suspected stolen property from the school, police said.
Officers found several classrooms at the school had been broken into and vandalized, and school staff determined what had gone missing. Police interviewed Arifin, authored several search warrants and identified several other suspects.
Later Wednesday, police served a search warrant at a residence in the 6100 block of Potrero Avenue but did not find the stolen technology. But after speaking with involved suspects by phone, a person related to one of the suspects surrendered all of the stolen laptops and other electronics shortly after 1 p.m. on Thursday, police said.
The stolen items were returned to Wilson Elementary School Principal Claudia Velez.
“I am filled with gratitude and appreciation for the support of the El Cerrito Police Department,” Velez said. “Due to the COVID-19 crisis our campus is closed for the rest of the year and teachers are providing instruction to students through distance learning. The efforts of El Cerrito Police Officers will allow 25 first graders to receive Chromebooks to learn at home while our school building is closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.”
Anyone with additional information about this case is encouraged to call the El Cerrito Police Department Investigations Division at (510) 215-4400 or via email at [email protected] and reference case #20-911.