It was almost a scene out of the Dr. Seuss children's classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
Burglars broke into Stonecreek Elementary School in Irvine Sunday night, unwrapped presents in the children's Christmas display, took the ones they wanted and even nabbed a four-foot, handmade Santa Claus, police said.
The burglars broke into two other schools the same night, traveling in a car stolen from an Irvine home that had been burglarized earlier in the evening, police said. All the crimes occurred in Irvine's Woodbridge area.
Police said Michael G. McNeill, 18, and a 15-year-old male companion, both of Irvine, were arrested Monday afternoon in connection with the break-ins. McNeill was booked into Orange County Jail on suspicion of burglary and auto theft. The 15-year-old, who was not identified because of his age, was taken to Juvenile Hall, police said.
Stolen Car Found
Lt. Pat Rogers said the burglarized residence had also been hit two years ago. Officers "did some backtracking," he said, which led to McNeill.
Rogers said the officers found the stolen car, laden with the Santa Claus replica and other items reported stolen from the three elementary schools, parked about two blocks from McNeill's girlfriend's house, he said.
The officers staked out the car, and when McNeill returned two hours later, he was arrested, Rogers said. McNeill then implicated the 15-year-old as an accomplice, Rogers added.
Police said the break-in spree began Sunday night when a burglar entered the home of Lois Gadol on Perch by forcing open a rear sliding door. While Gadol's family slept, the burglar took her purse, about $80 in cash and car keys, which he used to drive a 1983 Nissan Stanza out of the garage, Rogers said. The family discovered the theft in the morning, he said.
Burglars then raided Stonecreek, Eastshore and Alderwood Basics Plus elementary schools.
They entered Alderwood by prying open a roof hatch, then took a heavy safe, rifled the teachers' desks and took a total of $52.75 in petty cash, Rogers said. At Eastshore, they unbolted a skylight. Authorities have not completed an inventory of the loss there.
Most Items Recovered
At Stonecreek, burglars pried open a sliding door. The value of the stolen items--which included gifts the students intended to exchange with each other and canned goods and clothing designated for the needy--was not determined, police said.
Most of the stolen goods, except for the cash, were recovered, Rogers said.
Sgt. Mike Ogden, whose daughter attends first grade at Stonecreek, said the burglars "unwrapped everything under the tree to see what they wanted to take." The Santa Claus, which had been crafted by the wife of the school custodian, was especially missed, he said.
Ogden said the students' reaction to the crime was "one of bewilderment. They were unbelieving that persons unknown would come in and maliciously destroy the presents."
The burglary was a surprise "especially for the younger kids," Ogden said. "They trust people and don't know the wrong that goes on in the world."