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School Picking Up the Pieces After Vandals Hit 25 Rooms

Officials suspect group of high school students in the holiday attack on Palmdale elementary campus, and in 14 other recent incidents.

January 23, 2003|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

Cleanup work continued Wednesday at a Palmdale school extensively damaged in a vandalism spree that officials likened to a tornado or an act of war -- 25 rooms covered in graffiti and human waste and littered with debris from smashed furniture, lights and computers.

Palmdale School District spokesman Isaac Barcelona said the attack on Ana Verde Plaza, an 800-student elementary and middle school in west Palmdale, was one of the most vicious acts of school vandalism he had ever seen, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

"It was the worst devastation you could imagine," he said. "There wasn't anything that was left untouched."

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies suspect a group of adolescent boys broke into the public school during Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, taking bats to ceilings and televisions, dumping glue into file cabinets and painting obscenities on the walls. No arrests have been made, but deputies said charges would probably include felony vandalism.

Detectives are looking for three skateboard-toting boys whom a neighbor saw spraying the campus with fire extinguishers Monday evening.

Barcelona said he suspects that a group of high school students seen recently hanging out on the campus is responsible for Monday's attack, as well as 14 other minor acts of vandalism that have occurred at Ana Verde and the adjacent Summerwind Elementary School in the last three months.

Principal Todd Cherland said the motive for the attack was unclear.

"If there is one, it's going to take a [psychiatrist] to figure it out," he said from an office that still reeked of urine. "I consider it a hate crime, plain and simple. This wasn't vandalism -- it was a hateful act."

The attack was a particularly tough blow for Ana Verde Plaza. All classrooms in the year-round school are trailer-style temporary buildings. A permanent campus won't be built until 2005 -- and Cherland said that makes it difficult to engender a sense of pride in the place even on a good day.

"But we are going to continue," he said. "A school is not made of buildings, it's made of people, and we're OK."

Despite help from parent volunteers and a professional cleanup company, the school was still struggling to return to normal Wednesday.

Sixth-grade teacher Sunshine Contreras' room was still a mess. She has held class in a music room since Tuesday, and said that from what she had seen, she was assuming that a month's worth of planning, papers and projects was ruined.

"The students were putting together these poetry projects. They had all of their math work in there -- and now it's just gone," she said. "I have nothing for my grade books to measure."

Deputies ask that anyone with information about the crime call the Palmdale sheriff's station at (661) 267-4300.

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