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2 Boys Vandalize School, Causing $100,000 Damage

Mon., May 12, 1997, midnight

For 90 minutes early Sunday, two 13-year-old boys demolished Sacajawea Middle School’s offices in a rage-filled spree.

Swinging fire extinguishers inside the South Hill school, they smashed computers, phones and windows and splashed paint across walls, rugs and desks.

They also yanked books off shelves, tore lamps out of walls and ripped student art projects to pieces.

The damage: at least $100,000.

“It looked like what the inside of a home looks like after being struck by a tornado,” said Principal Herb Rotchford.

It was the worst vandalism at a Spokane public school in memory, according to police and District 81 officials. However, in 1973, an 11-year-old boy broke into Wilson Elementary School and started a fire that did $248,000 in damage.

A dog-assisted officer and a district security guard caught the boys moments after they had heaved a Radio Flyer wagon through a 12-foot-wide pane of glass - an art display case near the main office.

One of the boys is a former Sacajawea student who recently was expelled for chronic absences. He broke into the school with an out-of-town friend, police said.

“It was something to do,” one of the boys later told police.

They were arrested on felony charges of second-degree burglary and first-degree malicious mischief.

The boys cursed at police and refused to cooperate - until officers threatened to turn the dog on them. They were booked into the Spokane County Juvenile Detention Center with cuts on their hands, glass in their hair and paint on their clothes.

Inside Sacajawea, officers found two duffel bags the boys had stuffed with school property. They also found $200 in cash on the boys, plus burglary tools: flashlights, wire cutters and gloves.

Two patrolmen arrived 10 minutes after the boys had tripped a silent alarm at 1:13 a.m., but they had to wait more than an hour for backup units. Most officers were on the North Side at a standoff with an armed suicidal man, police spokesman Dick Cottam said.

Meanwhile, the boys ransacked the school’s administrative and business offices, the art room and counseling center, knocking out a dozen windows. They smashed every phone and intercom unit.

They also left a hand-painted death threat on the assistant principal’s office wall.

The brutality of the vandalism shocked Rotchford.

“They wanted to do as much damage to the people who they perceive to be in authority,” he said. “They came to wreak as much havoc as they could. What causes a 13-year-old mind to think that way?”

Police said they suspect the boys also are responsible for vandalism at neighboring Manito United Methodist Church, 3220 S. Grand. The damage was discovered prior to Sunday morning services.

Sacajawea students were outraged by the destruction.

“It upsets me,” said David Stalker, 13. “I’m curious to see what it all looks like.”

There won’t be much to see today, thanks to a furious cleanup effort.

Rotchford and 30 other District 81 employees, including carpenters, electricians and computer technicians, spent 12 hours Sunday cleaning up the mess.

Brown, turquoise and fuchsia paint was scrubbed off desks, walls and rugs. Broken glass was vacuumed. Books were returned to shelves and light fixtures were reconnected to the ceiling. Damaged phones and intercoms were replaced, as were 10 trashed Gateway 2000 computers.

“We didn’t want our kids coming to school and being devastated by what they saw,” Rotchford said. “This is their school, too.”

School counselor Dominic Frucci hung posters on his walls, covering the splattered brown paint. His “Be a Friend” mug, now missing chunks of its rim, was back on his bookshelf.

Frucci said it helps that the boys responsible for the destruction were caught.

Rotchford agreed. “Psychologically and emotionally, it’s helped us to be able to get it cleaned up and turned around.”

The principal will hold an early morning faculty meeting today, then address students by closed-circuit television.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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