Two men are now in Maricopa County Jail, accused of forcing their way into a Mesa elementary school with a crowbar before ransacking rooms and offices resulting in thousands of dollars in damage and stolen property.
Police arrested Shawn Meeker, 18, and Philip Fornraser, 19, on suspicion of burglary and criminal damage-related offenses early Friday after a school security officer discovered the suspects' vehicle parked outside Zaharis Elementary School, 9410 E. McKellips Road, about 3 a.m. The two had fled but crashed their vehicle into a large rock near the Las Sendas neighborhood at Hawes and McKellips roads, according to police.
After police executed search warrants at Fornraser's residence, they confiscated evidence that connected him to burglaries at other schools, according to Sgt. Ed Wessing, a Mesa police spokesman.
Other elementary schools that were broken into last week included Hale, Mendoza and Keller elementary schools, campuses described as "off the beaten path." School security officers began discovering those break-ins early Feb. 1.
However, police have no information at this time that links Meeker to other school burglaries, Wessing said.
The suspects would force entry into the school building by using a crowbar to pry open the main office door, smash windows, damage safes with sledgehammers, ransack the rooms and cabinets and steal computers and prescription medication from the nurse's office as well as cash, according to information from the Mesa Unified School District and Mesa police.
"It was a mess," said Al Moore, director of security for Mesa schools. "There was a lot of damage. There's more damage to the buildings than in the items that were stolen. It will be in the thousands."
Moore said after the break-ins started last week, six of the security officers began working at night in an attempt to catch whoever was responsible.
"When we started looking at these, we realized it was only elementary schools, and they were all off the beaten path," Moore said.
One of the district's security officers discovered a vehicle parked at the end of a long driveway backed up to a door at Zaharis Elementary, Moore said. The two guys ran out of the building and got in the car and took off.
Police received a report of a car that crashed into a large rock on Hawes, and air patrol located one of the men hiding on the nearby mountain. The second suspect was caught hiding under a bush, Moore said.
"We're glad they were caught," Moore said. "This is a prime example of the police and community working together. If police wouldn't have responded as quick as they did, they might have gotten away."