Four men are in custody and one man is at large following a home invasion robbery and hostage situation in Atwater Friday morning, according to to Lt. Sam Joseph.
Police arrested Ivan Hernandez, 24, Victor Quintero, 18, Arturo Lopez, 18, and Emilio Chaparro, 21. All four men are Modesto residents.
According to Joseph, a 21-year-old woman in the 2000 block of Oak Grove Lane called around 2:24 a.m., saying several men had forced their way into the home and were demanding money from her parents. She told police she’d locked herself inside a room to hide from the intruders and call 9-1-1.
Patrol officers arrived within minutes and saw two men walking in and out of the home, apparently stealing items from inside. According to Joseph, they were not aware of the police presence and began to run when confronted by officers. Officers caught the two suspects immediately, Joseph said.
Police determined that the other two men were still inside the home with the family of four hostages: two daughters and their parents.
Officers negotiated with the suspects, and after about 45 minutes, one of the hostages — the father — came outside with the two intruders beside him.
The father claimed the men told him, “you better tell the police we’re family or friends,” in an effort to get rid of the police. Instead, the father told the police they were not relatives and were actually holding his family hostage inside. Police took the two men into custody with little incident.
The father told police that one armed man could still be inside because a total of five suspects had broken into their home. The Merced County Sheriff's SWAT team responded and searched the house, but didn’t find anyone. Deputies in the sheriff’s helicopter searched the area, finding a gun and property related to the robbery, Joseph said.
Police believe the fifth suspect took off running toward Ashy Road, based on a trail of footprints and stolen property dropped during the chase. Joseph said the men took off with some of the family’s jewelry.
Officers found a cell phone belonging to one of the victims in the possession of a homeless man, who said he found it in the grass near where he sleeps.
Police reported more than two pounds of processed marijuana was found inside the home, but it’s unknown if marijuana was stolen.
Friday’s home invasion was the second in two days.
A Merced marijuana grow in the 2800 block of South Highway 59 was the target of a home invasion early Thursday morning when two armed men forced their way inside and stole about two dozen marijuana plants.
Merced County Sheriff’s Department spokesman deputy Tom MacKenzie said it’s unclear if the two cases are related, but said the influx in marijuana grows in Merced county are a target for criminals.
“Obviously with the explosion of medical marijuana grows, we’re seeing more and more home invasions related to marijuana theft or the cash generated from marijuana sales,” MacKenzie said. “Any marijuana grow, whether medical or for cash-generating purposes, are a target to people who are looking to make a quick profit from the marijuana without taking the risk of growing it themselves,”
MacKenzie noted that the local growing operations are competing with the bigger drug rings, which has can have serious and deadly implications.
“This is a multi billion industry for drug cartels, so people that are growing and trying to make a couple thousand dollars don’t understand that they’re making themselves a target for drug cartels that depend on this for their livelihood.”
-- Ramona Giwargis