Thieves Hit California Schools; Targeting Animals, Copper Wiring

August 17, 2011

Bill Chappell

From California, two stories have emerged today about thieves stealing from schools. In one case, the criminals seemed motivated by selling metal pipes. And in the other, they wanted rare animals.

Two reptiles and a tarantula were stolen from a classroom in Jurupa Valley, elementary school teacher Bonnie Werner says. The thieves broke into Troth Street Elementary and took the prize elements of her collection of lizards, snakes and other animals.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise reports:

Over this past weekend an all-too-human thief broke into Werner's fifth-grade classroom and made off with three of her most beloved, and valuable creatures: a bearded dragon, Uromastyx lizard and tarantula.

"They knew exactly what they wanted," a still-grieving Werner said Tuesday afternoon. "The Uromastyx was taken out of a tank with nine other lizards."

She had owned the bearded dragon lizard for about 11 years and the Uromastyx for 15 years.

After the theft, Werner decided to take several animals to her house for safe-keeping. She had been using the collection of frogs, spiders and reptiles as a way to teach students about respecting animals and their habitats.

Werner told the Press-Enterprise that she was especially sad that the lizards were stolen, calling them "the most gentle and the most pettable. They had so much personality."

And in San Francisco, police are increasing security around schools, after two campuses were hit by copper thieves in the past week, reports KTVU and the Bay Area News.

Copper pipes were removed from a building under construction — evidently over a four-day period — at a Chinese immersion public school last week. And then Sunday, two men were seen taking copper gutters off of a building at another school, police officials say.

The thefts occurred at the Alice Fong Yu Alternative School and the French School.

Thieves also took copper from schools in nearby Vallejo, in one case removing several hundred feet of wiring worth about $5,000 — despite the fact that the wires were live at the time, with at least 1,500 volts of electricity flowing through them, KCBS reports.

"It is unusual that all of a sudden all these schools are getting hit," San Francisco Police Capt. Curtis Lum told KTVU.

Officials say the wiring thefts may force some schools to postpone their opening day for the new school year.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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