Two men broke into an occupied home on the 300 block of Mantelli Drive late Wednesday morning, identifying themselves as policemen and threatening a woman with a crowbar as they forced her to lead them around the house in search of valuables.
In the aftermath of an incident Gilroy Police call “unusual” and “dangerous,” police are on the lookout for the two suspects described as lanky black men in their early 20s. The pair allegedly broke into the home through a kitchen window and harassed Jennifer Nguyen, a young Vietnamese woman who was a guest in the home at the time.
Nguyen said she was taking a nap alone at her boyfriend’s mother’s home around 11:40 a.m. when she heard heavy pounding on the front door. Thinking it was a salesperson, Nguyen ignored the racket and tried to go back to sleep.
A few moments later, she heard rattling noises and footsteps coming from inside the house.
“It’s the police,” she heard a male’s voice shout.
Scared, Nguyen tried to keep calm as she ventured out from her boyfriend Henry Nguyen’s room to see what was going on.
“I thought, ‘this is weird,’ so I went out to see. As soon as I saw the guys I said ‘OK, these guys aren’t the police,’” Nguyen said Wednesday night during her shift at a shoe store in the Gilroy Premium Outlets.
Nguyen, a petite woman around five feet tall and in her early 20s, said she faced the men in her bravest tone.
“Who the (expletive) are you guys?” she asked them.
She said that the men, dressed in black hooded sweatshirts, had entered through the kitchen window. They told her they would not hurt her if she lead them to the home’s valuables.
As a guest in the home, Nguyen said she honestly didn’t know where any valuables were, and told the men so.
One man held a crowbar over her and took her on a tour of the house in search of a cash box, insisting that she show them where the “good stuff” was hidden.
“I kept telling them they could threaten me all they want, but that I really didn’t know where anything was,” she said.
Nguyen said the men uttered racial slurs at Nguyen and continued to lead her around the house. Nguyen got the impression that the burglars were amateurs who didn’t give much thought to concealing their identities. The men stuck close to her the whole time with their faces uncovered.
“I think they finally figured out that I was studying their faces, and all of a sudden they wanted to leave,” she said.
They ordered her to hand over her iPhone and dumped the contents of her purse on the floor, ignoring a stack of credit cards and identification cards and taking only $20 in cash. They then sequestered her in an upstairs bedroom and fled. They took no other items from the home.
“My body was shaking but I remained calm,” she said.
Surprisingly collected for a victim of a recent home invasion, Nguyen didn’t appear phased Wednesday evening just hours after the incident, as she sorted boxes of brightly colored tennis shoes. She described the whole scene as “weird” and “strange” but that she wasn’t worried that the men – who were acting like “dumb kids” – would come back for her.
When the men left, Nguyen ran to the next-door neighbor’s house to borrow a phone and called 911. She did not witness whether the suspects fled on foot or in a vehicle.
Police are following up with an investigation handled by Detective Michael Bolton.
Police Sgt. Daniel Castaneda said the victim did not provide enough of a physical description for police to create sketches of the suspect’s faces.
But based on the physical descriptions provided by Nguyen, police have initiated multiple vehicle and pedestrian stops in search of the burglars – none of which have proved fruitful yet.
“Based on the physical description and ethnic background, we have initiated stops in town,” Castaneda said.
As of Thursday afternoon, police had not located either suspect or the stolen cell phone.
“We’re hoping that people will come forward who may have seen the suspects around. The reason this is called a “hot prowl” is because people are inside a home, and it makes it very dangerous and unusual,” Castaneda said.
A hot prowl is a burglary of an occupied home, and is rarely reported in Gilroy. Criminals usually prefer to enter an unoccupied home during the dark to remain inconspicuous and avoid a violent confrontation.
The last major home invasion reported in the area was of a home on Rucker Avenue in the county in February 2011, when a group of burglars broke into a private residence and tortured the victim in an attempt to gain access to his safe.
Cecilia Vo, 49-year-old resident of the Mantelli home that was invaded Wednesday, said that although she has a home alarm system, she had not set it properly that day.
“It’s so scary to think that happened,” Vo said, who was at work when the men broke in.
In 17 years of living at that address, she has never felt unsafe before this happened, Vo said.
Vo walked through the first story of her open-planned two-story home, pointing to the kitchen window that the men pried open with their crowbar.
“We had nothing valuable for them to steal, I don’t keep cash here,” she said.
Still, Vo is worried that because her home is located directly across the street from Las Animas Park – which is constantly filled with drifters and loiterers – she could be prey to another break-in in the future.
“I want to spread the word. I hope they catch these guys,” she said.
Police Chief Denise Turner said that these types of daylight burglaries that occur when the victim is home are “very rare” in Gilroy.
“We are very fortunate it didn’t lead to violence,” Turner said. “I think this was more of a home burglary, and the burglars were surprised when they found someone home.”
Turner said detectives are checking to see if any recent prison releases or parolees have been released in the area with the suspect’s description.
“We don’t know if they’re local, we haven’t seen anything like this, so we are working hard to identify the suspects,” she said.