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5 Held in School Vandalism

The teens arrested at James Monroe High in North Hills are being held in lieu of $20,000 bail. The senior prank caused about $10,000 in damage.

June 29, 2004|Christiana Sciaudone | Times Staff Writer

Five teenagers were arrested early Monday while allegedly vandalizing a North Hills school as a senior prank, officials said.

Two Los Angeles police officers, aware that vandalism sometimes accompanies the end of the school year, saw 10 to 15 people destroying school property at James Monroe High School about 1:45 a.m., said Sgt. Orlando Chandler.

School officials said the vandals caused an estimated $10,000 in damage. The vandals splattered purple paint on a set of double doors, splashed motor oil on a building, spray-painted offensive language on several buildings, broke seven sapling trees and sawed off four new umbrellas in the lunch area.

Police said the five students detained were being questioned Monday, and police were hoping to round up those who fled.

The five teenagers were each being held in lieu of $20,000 bail, on suspicion of felony vandalism, Chandler said.

Police identified them as Denise Figueroa, Jason Gomez and Marcus Hopson, all 18, and two 17-year-olds, who were not identified because of their age.

"This is something that has really disgraced our school in the eyes of the community," said Monroe High School Principal Gregory J. Vallone. "We've been working diligently to have the students feel proud about coming here. It's really disheartening."

Four of the teenagers were seniors at the school, and one was a former student, though officials did not specify who that student was. The seniors are set to graduate Wednesday, and will still receive their diplomas if they qualify.

However, "if in fact, those people have done this, they won't be walking across our stage," Vallone said. "Walking across the stage is a privilege. It means you have a good deportment, you are a good citizen."

The vandals apparently hopped a 10-foot fence to enter the campus.

Vallone, who was notified of the arrests about 3 a.m., said the school expects senior pranks every year. One year, for example, students installed a Bob's Big Boy statue on a lawn near the entrance. Even Vallone found that prank funny.

In anticipation of pranksters this year, maintenance workers greased the locks of school doors several weeks ago to foil efforts to jam them. Even so, on Monday night 29 locks on eight buildings were jammed.

Vallone said the vandalism was the worst he has seen on the school, which has about 5,000 students.

"This is an anomaly," he said. "Our kids don't do this."

Vallone learned Monday that fliers had been passed among the seniors last week, encouraging them to participate in the senior prank. "I guess it started out as a senior prank," Vallone said, "and they got way too carried away."

The Los Angeles Unified School District maintenance department was called at 4:15 a.m., and about 17 workers spent hours cleaning and changing locks and covering up the graffiti. They were still removing paint Monday afternoon.

Senior Adriana Contreras, 18, said she was shocked to see the vandalism when she came to school Monday.

"I was ashamed that our class did this," Contreras said.

Sam Dabit, 17, a junior, was also disappointed in the seniors. "We come here every day," he said, "this is like our second house. We want it to be somewhere nice."

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