San Diego Police are looking for the thief or thieves that made off with thousands of dollars in equipment used to benefit underserved youth.
The equipment, which was stored in a 7x14 foot trailer parked at the City of Hope International Church in Lincoln Park, is owned by James Wiley Jr., Founder & President of Reel Teens.
“I felt shock and frustration. You’re taking from my life’s work to build our mobile teen center,” Wiley said.
The non-profit group aims to provide a safe haven for inner-city youth while promoting spiritual growth. About 25 kids showed up last Friday for the group’s first "Summer Nights" event.
But the smiles and laughter of a successful night would be replaced by shock just a few hours later. Wiley showed up early the next day to find the trailer ransacked, with about $8,000 in equipment stolen.
“For it to be gone, just like that, after our first event, it was definitely frustrating because you’re taking from my life’s purpose now, and you’re taking from the youth in the community, so it was definitely frustrating," Wiley said.
He said the items taken include a large generator, a 20-foot inflatable projector screen, a movie projector, a microphone system, and a 55-inch TV.
The church has security cameras that show a man apparently casing the area around 9:45 p.m. Several hours later, a man wearing a different shirt, but with the same baseball hat, is seen trying to lift the large generator up some stairs. The video also shows a second person apparently assisting the suspected thief.
For Wiley, it’s especially frustrating because it’s the exact type of behavior he’s trying to lead kids away from.
“What we saw is exactly the path that we want to deter them away from. We don’t want them taking things that belong to other people. We want them to work hard for everything that they get and we know that they will,” Wiley said.
Meanwhile, Wiley said he’s extremely grateful for community members who have come forward to provide cash donations at a fundraising site and ReelTeen.org to help replace the stolen equipment and allow him to continue to provide a safe outlet for teens.
“Every single dollar that we get is going to be used toward the youth, and for their betterment, their empowerment and just to make this community a better place for them. So thank you to all the community members who have given,” Wiley said.