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Vandals Use Axes to Damage 2 Schools in Orange County

Destruction: Windows, lockers, fountains and light fixtures are battered at the Capistrano Unified campuses, as the toll tops $50,000. Three teenage suspects are arrested.

January 04, 2002|DAVE McKIBBEN and MIKE ANTON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Vandals rampaged through two Orange County schools late Wednesday, causing the worst damage in Capistrano Unified School District history.

The destruction began about 9:30 p.m. when someone broke into a tool shed at Capistrano Valley High School, stole two axes and other tools, and then went to work tearing up Del Obispo Elementary School and Marco Forster Middle School. Damage totaled more than $50,000, authorities said.

Three suspects were arrested by Orange County sheriff's deputies about midnight, an hour after residents in the neighborhood around Marco Forster reported hearing gunshots.

Booked on suspicion of felony vandalism were Daniel J. Kenway, 18, a Dana Hills High School student; Robert DeLuca, 19, a Capistrano Valley High graduate; and a 17-year-old student at Dana Hills whose name was withheld. All three were released from jail on their own recognizance.

The most extensive damage occurred at Marco Forster school, where roof tiles, lockers, water fountains, cafeteria windows and light fixtures were smashed. At adjacent Del Obispo, about 15 handmade planter boxes were ripped from two rows of portable classrooms.

"It was all malicious vandalism, but the planter boxes that were made by students and staff were especially meaningful," said Associate Supt. Dan Crawford.

Dorothy Dalton, whose son attends Marco Forster, said, "I don't know why people do things like this. It seems so silly, such a waste."

Experts say arrests in such cases are unusual, but the timing of the crime--during the holidays--is not.

"Schools are not designed to be defended. They are open places . . . and quite vulnerable. They're much more a target during holidays," said Ron Stephens, executive director of the nonprofit National School Safety Center in Westlake Village.

Statewide, 25,430 property crimes at schools were reported to the California Department of Education in 1999-2000, down from 27,090 incidents four years earlier.

Despite the decline, the costs of theft, vandalism and arson are steep: $24 million in 1999-2000, the last year for which statistics are available.

"It's been said that we spend more on vandalism than we do on textbooks in our schools," Stephens said.

Districts, most notably the Los Angeles Unified School District, have turned to cameras to deter vandals, especially during holiday breaks when campuses go dark for days or weeks at a time.

"It's a trend I've noticed for many years," said Lt. Keith Moore with the Los Angeles school district police. "The vandals know there's no one at school, so they strike. We deploy extra officers during that time."

In recent years, the district has installed cameras at 10 high schools, and Moore said there are plans for "a significant camera presence" on most campuses in the future.

"We're looking at getting cameras that show real time, where they can be monitored on laptops or desktop computers," Moore said.

Already, he said, districts in Cleveland; Jackson, Miss.; and Washington, D.C., can monitor campus activity online.

"Technology can be one of a school's best friends in combating vandalism," Stephens said. "The cost is huge. But you either pay for vandalism or pay for vandalism protection."

There were no cameras at Capistrano Valley High, but surveillance equipment is in place at three district high schools: San Clemente, Dana Hills and Junipero Serra. Crawford said cameras are scheduled go into all secondary schools in the district within a year, and officials are considering even more steps, such as adding security guards.

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