UC Berkeley fraternity seeks answers after series of break-ins this month

Maya Valluru/Staff

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UC Berkeley fraternity Alpha Tau Omega, or ATO, has been subject to a series of break-ins this month.

ATO President Aidan Salzmann said the fraternity, which is located at 2327 Warring St., has been the victim of at least three instances of suspects “messing with the property.” Salzmann said fraternity members were woken up by the fire alarm about 4 a.m. on Oct. 1. After firefighters arrived on the scene, the members discovered that someone had allegedly discharged the fire extinguisher in the television room, which triggered the fire alarms, according to Salzmann.

Salzmann said the fire alarm went off again about 4:40 a.m. When he ran out of the house, he saw water gushing out of the pipes. He alleged that the suspects had unscrewed some valves in the pipes, which caused the sprinkler system to become depressurized and triggered the fire alarm.

The fraternity filed a report with Berkeley Police Department about these incidents, according to Salzmann.

BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel confirmed that two fire alarms were triggered early in the morning of Oct. 1. He said Berkeley Fire Department called BPD about 4:43 a.m. and BPD went to investigate the incident. According to Frankel, there was some vandalism done to the property, which created leaks to the gas and potentially to the plumbing.

“The fire extinguisher seems along the vein of … someone pranking our house,” Salzmann said. “But (the pipes) — that’s a much stranger form of a prank because it’s pretty non-obvious that that would even trigger the fire alarm. It also seemed kind of sinister because they were disabling one of the main security systems of our house.”

That same day about 11:30 p.m., Salzmann’s fraternity brother told him ATO’s security system indicated that the valves had been tampered with again. When he walked outside, he saw a suspect dressed in all black near the sprinkler system. The suspect ran away, but Salzmann chased him to Unit 2 while calling BPD to report the incident.

Salzmann alleged that when he caught up with the suspect, the suspect started throwing punches at his head. Salzmann also alleged that the suspect split open his eyebrow. He added that he put the suspect into a headlock, but the suspect eventually escaped and ran down College Avenue.

After the suspect fled the scene, Salzmann said he went to the Alta Bates emergency room, where he discovered that he suffered a concussion from the altercation.

“On the one front, it’s annoying (that) I got a concussion because it just made it really difficult with classes. … (It’s) affecting my school work,” Salzmann said. “And (on) another front, after the disabling of the fire system, people were just really scared. They were just afraid that someone was going to come burn the house down while everyone was sleeping with no working sprinkler system.”

Salzmann described the suspect as as a white male with short blonde hair, between the ages of 25 and 35, between 5 feet 11 inches and 6 feet in height and weighing about 175 pounds. He added that the suspect looked “pretty lean” and had a “gaunt face … like a skeleton.”

Frankel said BPD has a similar description for the suspect in this incident, but that this description differs from suspect descriptions for other incidents. He added, however, that he would “rather not share” the other suspect descriptions BPD has at this time.

Frankel also said the motivation behind these incidents is not clear at this point in the investigation but that the incidents appear to be related. He added that BPD has no updates on the case at this time.

“There have been a series of calls at that address. It’s not clear definitively that they’re related … (because) we don’t have a named suspect,” Frankel said.

Salzmann said that although he has some ideas about the motivation behind these incidents, he doesn’t have anything “concrete.”

“We have a couple different ideas that we’re exploring, but personally, I have no idea who it is or why they’re doing it,” Salzmann said. “I just hope it stops.”

According to Salzmann, some suspects also came to ATO about 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 12. He said that he and his friend were sitting on the roof of ATO when they noticed a “suspicious figure dressed in all black” walking around the block. Salzmann alleged that about 30 minutes later, he saw two more suspects dressed in all black hitting the cage that surrounds one of the sets of pipes for ATO. He said that when the suspects saw Salzmann and his friend on the roof, they fled the scene.

Salzmann said some of his fraternity brothers have been staying up all night because they are so uneasy. He added that ATO “stationed” people on the roof as lookouts in case the suspects returned.

“I think it’s definitely made everyone kind of uneasy because of the nature of the attacks because, one, these people are clearly violent and because, two, we’re not really sure what their intentions are,” Salzmann alleged. “It’s definitely made everyone a little afraid.”

Chantelle Lee is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee.