AHWAHNEE – It was just another Tuesday during finals week when full time students Chris and Jessica decided to take a break for lunch.
Leaving Fresno State in their 2002 Cadillac Escalade, the married couple drove a few blocks to Manchester Center and then pulled into a lot, parking under a posted sign that warned of surveillance, just to be safe.
It turns out you can’t believe everything you read.
Chris and Jessica, both 29, have been together since high school. Besides being partners in life, they’re business partners as well. Jessica is a Yosemite High School graduate, class of 2002. The couple lives in Ahwahnee, home base for Caked Imagery Mobile Photopraphy.
Most school days, Jessica would leave most of her camera gear at home. Not this day, though. On May 6, Jessica had with her everything she owned in the way of cameras and computers, packed neatly and safely into the back of the Escalade, a vehicle complete with darkly tinted windows.
The couple looked forward to catching up with one another, and at the last minute, Jessica placed her cell phone into the glovebox so she could concentrate on lunch with her husband. They locked the car and walked through the Starbucks drive-through traffic to Panda Express.
It wasn’t long before the happy afternoon was shattered, as a quick stop for lunch turned into a disaster. When Chris and Jessica walked back to the Escalade, they could see immediately that the SUV had been broken into by someone who probably used a flatbar under the handle, simply popping the door open. They had only been gone 15 minutes.
Jessica began screaming for someone to call the police, call Verizon, call security, call anyone. There were people everywhere, yet somehow, no one had seen.
“I went straight for the back, to see if the equipment was still there. We had just shot a wedding that weekend. It was instant heartbreak,” said Jessica, knowing that the gear was gone, including a camera, four lenses, the laptop, hard drive, miscellaneous accessories including the flash unit, and one Smartphone. The equipment was valued at a total of $5,000.
Equally upsetting was the theft of most of the images from the wedding that their company Caked had photographed just days before. It was devastating, and both couples would reel from the loss.
Chris and Jessica called police who arrived on scene after 90 minutes, taking a report and checking for fingerprints.
Authorities said they would review the survellience cameras, since the Escalade was parked right underneath a sign warning that the area was being watched 24 hours daily.
That representation was revealed to be inaccurate: only one survellience camera was operational, in the opposite end of the parking lot, and its view didn’t cover the area where the Escalade was parked.
Chris followed up with police two days later, delivering serial numbers for all the stolen equipment. Now, it’s been a month. Chris and Jessica haven’t heard any news from the police. No progress has been made on recovering the stolen goods. One of Jessica’s professors surmised that the contents of her car were seen by the wrong individual at school, and that she was specifically targeted for the break-in.
It took a few days for the magnitude of the loss to hit home.
“We had been saving money to buy equipment even before we started the business, because we didn’t want to be in debt. So we saved and saved and bought pieces of equipment as we were able to, along the way, and it took about three years to accumulate what we lost. The wedding is gone, we just have previews that we put up before we delivered, just six or eight shots,” explained Jessica.
Part of the pain in telling the newlywed couple whose wedding Caked had just shot that their photographs were stolen, came from the fact that the couple in question – Kara and Kyle – could not have been nicer, Jessica confided.
“They were the most amazing people ever! From a photographer’s standpoint, it was a blessing to me that they are the sweetest people, but at the same time, it hurt so much more to have had their images stolen. They have been very understanding.”
Once Jessica made news of the theft public, the public began supporting the couple on their journey to replace everything they’d lost. Someone suggested a fundraiser, and the Caked team knew exactly what they could raffle off to raise money – photography services, courtesy of Caked Imagery.
Raffle tickets are $5 each with the option of discounted bundles. The prizes include a one hour photography session, a two hour session, and a five hour photography session covering the event of the recipient’s choice, within a 50 mile radius of Oakhurst, and the prize is transferable. The winning raffle tickets will be randomly drawn on June 20.
The response from the community has been as heartwarming as the theft was heartbreaking.
Still, there was a time, shortly after everything was stolen, that Jessica began to re-evaluate her career choice. Not anymore, though.
“We have seen a huge amount of people donating to us, it’s been amazing, honestly,” said Jessica, who was forced to take incompletes on her semester’s work at Fresno State.
“We are a little mountain community and we try hard to offer an affordable option for photographs. You never know if that’s appreciated or even recognized, and the community has made us feel like we do have an impact. This experience has made it clear how many people do appreciate us and want us to keep going. We are forever grateful.”
For more information or to purchase raffle tickets, visit Caked Imagery on Facebook.