SJ officials search for solutions after secret bunker with stolen items, firearms near school

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Thursday, July 14, 2022
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San Jose officials search for solutions after a bunker with $100,000 worth of stolen items and firearms were found near an elementary school.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Franklin-McKinley School District Headquarters and neighboring George Shirakawa Sr. Elementary School were recently outfitted with new cameras, locks, fencing and other security measures to strengthen the campus perimeter.

Superintendent Juan Cruz said the district is familiar with challenges that come with being located near a large homeless encampment.

"We see the regular traffic in and out of the creek," Superintendent Cruz explained. "But, I mean, this is beyond that."

Cruz referencing Tuesday's discovery of a sophisticated underground bunker that was uncovered along nearby Coyote Creek by San Jose Police patrol officers.

VIDEO: 6 arrested after SJPD uncovers underground bunker with $100K worth of stolen goods inside

Inside, officers found $100,000 worth of stolen items including power tools, equipment and firearms.

"There's a lot of activity with young children in families," Superintendent Cruz pointed out about the area where the bunker was found. "And so that is why we're so concerned about just what they found. And just how challenging this is, because this is not new."

Six people were arrested, facing felony possession of stolen property, burglary and weapons charges, according to SJPD Officer Steven Aponte.

"Regardless of being housed or unhoused- a crime occurs in the City of San Jose, we're going to treat it as seriously as possible," he told reporters. "Likewise, if somebody is a victim of a crime, regardless if they're a business or unhoused, they're going to be treated with the same professional manner and given the same rights as anyone else."

However, it's the level of criminal activity linked to the underground bunker that is most alarming to Superintendent Cruz. With about one month until students return, he explained safety measures must extend beyond school grounds.

"Now we have to work on, you know, with the city and the county in terms of how does that translate in terms of safety to and from home," Cruz shared.

SJPD Assistant Police Chief Paul Joseph said established foot and bike patrols along Coyote Creek trail have provided a level of security.

"I think the success of the bike patrol program has been the absence of any sort of assaults or incidents on the trail," Assist. Chief Joseph told ABC7 News.

However, the bunker was built off the trail and into the side of the Coyote Creek bed.

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More motivation for District 7 Councilmember Maya Esparza's on-going push to clear encampments, especially near schools.

In the past, she's come to council meetings with examples focused specifically on George Shirakawa Sr. Elementary.

"I had to resort to making a PowerPoint to show pictures of what children needed to walk through every single day," Councilmember Esparza said.

On Wednesday, she weighed in on the recent discovery of the elaborate bunker bordering campus.

"I'm angry and disappointed," she shared.

Esparza explained she's served as a Franklin-McKinley School Board member in the past, working with the city to get the perimeter fence installed.

"I left the school board in 2012. So, 10 years later, I'm thankful we have the fence, but it shows that there's that much more work to do," Esparza told ABC7 News. "And frankly, we need folks in the city being willing to look at what's really happening in Coyote Creek and in other places in our city, and be willing to face those challenges head on."

The firearms found inside the bunker remain the biggest concern for city and school leaders. Assist. Chief Joseph added, "We seized over 900 firearms- illegally possessed firearms in the City of San Jose last year, and are continuing efforts through a number of means."

RELATED: 3 arrested after 'full-scale ghost gun factory' found inside San Jose home

SJPD confirmed the firearms and other recovered items all have been returned to their rightful owner.

Esparza emphasized the need for community members to get involved in bringing their concerns to city leaders, in order to aid in a search for solutions.

"We have realities here in District 7 that folks don't necessarily have in other parts of the city," she said. "Which is why it's so important for people to share their stories so that everyone can really understand what's going on."

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