'Our sense of safety has been taken from us': Reflections after a Berkeley 'hot prowl' burglary

The March 12 burglary was one of four in the neighborhood on the same night. Two of them were "hot prowl" burglaries where people were home.

'Our sense of safety has been taken from us': Reflections after a Berkeley 'hot prowl' burglary
Police are investigating four burglaries near the North Berkeley BART station that may be related. Two of them were "hot prowl" burglaries where people were home, police said. Google Street View

Earlier this month, a woman and her 11-year-old son were sleeping in their home near the North Berkeley BART station when a burglar broke in sometime before 5 a.m.

He likely stood on a milk crate and used a butter knife to pry open a window that had been painted shut.

Then he crawled through the window after knocking a row of small succulents off the ledge to clear his path.

He rummaged through drawers, took some items and left, managing not to disturb the residents sleeping nearby.

The woman said she woke up to hear one of her cats meowing early that morning. (The Scanner granted her anonymity for this story.)

She noticed a light on in the other room, then saw the open window and disturbed drawers. She quickly realized a stranger had been inside their home.

In the days that followed, she and her son struggled to regain a sense of security.

"The worst part is our sense of safety has been taken from us," she said. "Because it was happening when we were asleep."

The woman said she was glad, however, that they hadn't woken up to find the intruder in front of them.

"It’s just so shocking to think that there was somebody in my house while I was sleeping," she said. "I guess that’s what trauma is. It’s a shock to the system. It doesn’t fit into our normal sense of safety."

The March 12 burglary was one of four in the neighborhood on the same night. Two of them were "hot prowl" burglaries where people were home, Berkeley police said this week.

Most involved unlocked doors and windows.

Police say they have been working on the cases and have a strong lead.

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There have been at least three hot prowl burglaries since last weekend along with others that may be linked, residents told The Berkeley Scanner.

Shortly after the hot prowl burglary, the woman posted about it on NextDoor to let her neighbors know what happened. There was a strong response.

The Scanner noticed the post and asked the woman to share her experience in an effort to shed light on the impact crime can have on people in the community.

After the burglary, she said, she took numerous steps to make the property feel safer for her and her son.

A relative helped her secure all of her windows and she is working to have a fence built.

She said she had considered getting a dog but already has two cats.

After much consideration, she decided to install an alarm system.

"We're hoping it will help us to come back into the house," she said.

She and her son also went to a self-defense class.

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Tyrone Brown has been charged with felonies linked to four Berkeley households over less than a week, according to court papers.

Many of her efforts have been focused on helping her son recover, she said last week.

"He was just upset," she said. "He hasn’t asked questions. But he doesn’t feel safe. He doesn’t want to be here."

The boy also continued to worry about whether someone would break in again.

In some ways, he had been more directly impacted by the burglary than she had, his mother said.

The only item of real monetary value the intruder had taken was a Nintendo game system, which also had sentimental value because of the way the boy had received it.

After years of resistance to video games, the woman said she had given in to the idea this past Christmas. A friend then unexpectedly gifted the family a Nintendo Switch system they were no longer using.

The family didn't realize the game system was gone until a few days after the burglary when family members came over for dinner "to try to warm up the house again and make us more comfortable."

That night, they wanted to play a game and went looking for the Nintendo.

"It was gone," she said. "It was just a little heartbreaking for him. And it was kind of irreplaceable because of the way we got it."

The 11-year-old's backpack had also been taken. That too was upsetting.

They realized it when they were getting ready for school the day after the burglary and the backpack wasn't there.

Somehow, however, a stranger found it discarded, soaking wet, and returned it to the boy's elementary school, likely having seen some school papers inside.

The woman said her son was wearing the backpack when she picked him up from school.

She was surprised, which in turn surprised her son: He said he thought she had been the one who had brought it to the office.

It turned out an elderly neighbor had dropped it off.

Inside the backpack, the woman found her butter knife as well as a set of keys that didn't belong to her.

"It was a little disconcerting that my son was wearing this backpack (that had been stolen)," she said. "But I think we all were happy to have the backpack back."

The woman noted that her son had struggled for years with sleep issues and that the break-in had made that worse.

Years of progress had gone down the drain, requiring more check-ins in the night to reassure him.

For days, she said, they were unable to sleep in the house alone.

They have since performed two cleansing ceremonies to try to get back to normal.

In one, the 11-year-old used sage and asked for the house to be safe and protected, to release all the negative energy.

"He really liked that," his mother said. "He was the one who did it. He was so good at it."

This past weekend, a family friend came over to perform her own limpia, a spiritual cleansing, with sage and cedar. The friend, who is a healer-bruja, was singing and the little boy was drumming along.

The woman, who is a Berkeley native and a trauma therapist, said those efforts had helped.

She also recalled the days just after the burglary when she had been grappling with how best to handle the emotional fallout that had left her mind racing.

As a trauma therapist, she said she knows it's important to approach what's causing anxiety to work through residual trauma.

But, in the days after the burglary, she just didn't want to sleep at home and was struggling to sleep in general.

She felt conflicted because she didn't want to avoid her house at night — but approaching the trauma head-on didn't seem to be working.

A friend encouraged her to listen to what her body needed.

"You need to do whatever you need to do to get back to a place of rest," the friend said. "Stay at your mom’s house if that’s what you need."

The woman said it helped her accept that she needed to be rested to tackle the tough work ahead.

"That was really good advice," she said. "I can’t approach something if I’m in fight or flight."

If you've been directly affected by crime in Berkeley, The Scanner would like to hear from you.