Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Schriever Sentinel

Schriever Airmen thwart serial burglar

By Staff Sgt. Robert Cloys

50th Space Wing Public Affairs

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. —

Two Schriever Captains, using a photo like this, were able to identify and track an alleged serial burglar. Capt. Justin Fernandez (left) and Capt. Aaron Celaya pose for a photo recreating the one that helped lead police to an arrest. (U.S. Air Force Photo Illustration/ Staff Sgt. Robert Cloys)

Thanks to a doorbell camera that snaps photographs, thoughtful neighbors, social media and a vigilant co-worker, Capt. Justin Fernandez is one step closer to attaining justice.

Oct. 23 started the same as any other day for Fernandez, a member of the 1st Space Operations Squadron. The day ended however, with an unfortunate twist. His neighbors alerted him that, while he was at work, they saw a man enter his house from the back yard and exit though the front door several hours later.

“It wasn’t until my girlfriend came home that we noticed her drawers were cracked open and discovered that he had stolen some things,” said Fernandez.

All their expensive jewelry, Fernandez’s University of Washington class ring and a computer tablet were gone.

However, diligence and teamwork kept the story from ending there.

Fernandez remembered he had a security camera installed that captured the photograph of anyone who came to the door.

After saving the photo and giving it on to the police, Fernandez showed his coworker, Capt. Aaron Celaya, the photo as well as a description of the car the robber drove, according to his neighbors. A casual conversation between coworkers would soon prove extraordinary.

Oct. 31, as Celaya drove back to Schriever following a lunchtime appointment, he noticed a car similar to the one his coworker described to police in phone conversations at work.

“As the car was passing by, I thought, ‘no way, this is too coincidental — it can’t be the burglar.’ But then as he passed by me I saw his face and it was very similar to the photograph that Captain Fernandez showed me on his Facebook page,” he said.

At that moment, Celaya had a decision to make. After a brief pause, he put on his turn signal, crossed in to the next lane and began following the suspected burglar’s car.

“I felt that he was looking for his next victim,” said Celaya.

After a few minutes of driving, they reached an intersection with no homes where the car being followed made a U-turn to double back and stop on the side of the road near some townhouses.

Rather than pull directly behind him, Celaya made note of the vehicle’s license plate and passed the parked car. From a parking lot a safe distance away from the man he was following, he quickly called Fernandez to tell him what was happening. The two decided a 911 call should be made in the event none of this was coincidence.

“I explained to the dispatcher that there had been numerous reports of an individual in a car matching the description of the one I was following who had burglarized several homes and that I was currently looking at him,” said Celaya.

Fifteen minutes later three law enforcement officials arrived. They cautiously approached the car, surrounded it and took the driver’s keys.

As officers interrogated the individual Celaya was able to acquire the surveillance photo from Fernandez via Facebook.

“They had me drive to a secluded area where I showed them the picture,” said Celaya. “Not only did they say that it looked remarkably like the individual but that if it is him, then he hadn’t changed his clothes since the picture was taken.”

Later that evening the Colorado Springs Police Department called Celaya to congratulate him and thank him for his help in getting the alleged burglar off the streets.

“They had been after him for a while and were just elated about how this worked out — 30 seconds difference and I probably would not have seen him,” said Celaya.

Although he has yet to see any of his items back yet, Fernandez is also elated.

“I’m glad that Captain Celaya was there for me to help bring this guy down. My family is grateful as well and I am glad that our teamwork has extended beyond the flight commanders office,” he said. “It was truly a team effort on behalf of 1 SOPS, the 50th Operations Group and our families.”

Gratitude has additionally come from places beyond Celaya’s workplace. During an interview, Sarah Schwabe, a local TV reporter, shared another thread of the story.

“She had interviewed a lady who had her home burglarized by this individual and that knowledge had traumatized her whole family,” he said. “The kids were scared and not sleeping well at night ever since he robbed them. When Sarah was able to call her to tell her that we had got the man responsible she said that she felt a sigh of relief and that she knew that her kids would sleep better knowing that he was off the streets.”

Celebration aside, both have learned valuable lessons from the incident.

“Secure your household before you leave for work,” said Fernandez. “Also, get to know your neighbors. If our neighbor hadn’t been watching this guy, we might not have noticed we were robbed at all.”

Celaya’s lesson was solidified through his actions.

“Pay attention to your surroundings and be involved with those with whom you work and live. It was only through this information sharing and passing that I was able to recognize the individual,” he said.

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