A man in his 30s had noticed lights shining in the street outside his home and saw multiple people walking down the street with flashlights. They appeared to be shining the lights into parked cars and trying to open car doors.
The resident went outside to confront them and found a person standing by the open driver's door of his car in the driveway. He chased the thieves on foot as they ran to a waiting getaway SUV. The man heard what sounded like a gunshot and thought he saw the impact of the round on the pavement in front of him.
He was not hit by the gunfire and never saw the weapon, police said. But officers later located an expended casing from a .40-caliber handgun at the scene and will be processing it for evidence.
The man said he saw five or six people flee in a full-sized, dark colored SUV, which drove north on South Court and then east on East Meadow Drive.
Officers responded to the call immediately, as did the Palo Alto Fire Department as a precautionary measure, but could not find the suspects.
Nothing was missing from the victim's unlocked car, but the thieves rummaged through the center console, police said.
A check of the neighborhood found that at least two other unlocked cars on South Court had been rummaged through.
The man told police the men were about 5 feet, 9 inches tall with larger builds. Two were wearing hooded sweatshirts — one gray and one yellow.
Within the hour, at 12:45 a.m., police received another call from a resident, this one who lived in the 700 block of Talisman Court in the Palo Verde neighborhood. That person reported that they had reviewed surveillance camera footage. The images showed that at about 11:20 p.m. a group of suspects had been rummaging through unlocked vehicles in that location. Police believe it is likely they are the same people seen on South Court, which is about a mile away from Talisman Court. The suspect vehicle appears to be an SUV with chrome rims.
The nonprofit Mothers Against Murder has offered a $20,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest, police said Tuesday.
The nonprofit's chairman, Roger Smith, who has previously put up rewards for local unsolved gun crimes, said he wants to motivate people to get involved.
"Violence on my neighbors is not acceptable. I feel a duty to help the Palo Alto's police
department to leverage funds as an incentive to prevent gun violence," Smith said in a statement released on Wednesday. "The police need our help and the entire community's involvement."
Police Chief Robert Jonsen thanked Smith and Mothers Against Murder for offering the reward.
"We are deeply appreciative of the support of Mothers Against Murder to help reduce gun violence," Jonsen said in a press release. "We hope that this reward will spur someone with information about this dangerous suspect and his accomplices to come forward and speak with our detectives."
Overnight thefts from vehicles — in which there is no forced entry to the car because the doors are left unlocked — and auto burglaries, in which a car is forcibly entered, are common in any city in the Bay Area, police said.
But shots being fired during the commission of such crimes are rare.
"There have been no similar incidents in Palo Alto or neighboring cities recently of which we are aware where a shot was fired," police said.
Police are working to confirm how many cases may be connected to these individuals from the overnight incidents; it often takes people time to notice items missing from an unlocked car unless there is an overt sign that the vehicle has been rummaged through, police said.
Police are actively investigating these incidents. They recommend always locking car doors overnight, and always calling police promptly to report suspicious activity.
Victims of an auto burglary or theft from a vehicle can call the police 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413 or file an online report at cityofpaloalto.org/onlinereports.
Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the Palo Alto police dispatch center, email an anonymous tip to firstname.lastname@example.org or send a text to 650-383-8984.
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