Baltimore County police early today arrested three teen-agers on charges they broke into Charlesmont Elementary School in the Dundalk area and caused damage so extensive that the school was forced to shut down today.
Fires were set in at least one work area of the school, and numerous classrooms were vandalized, police said.
Police spokesman Sgt. Stephen Doarnberger said an officer from the North Point police barracks responding to a burglar alarm shortly before 3 a.m. at the school in the 7800 block of W. Collingham Drive spotted a youth climbing out of a window as the officer pulled onto the school parking lot.
Police said the youth ran but was arrested a short distance away. The officer said that before he chased the youth he heard noises coming from the school as though others were inside.
Other officers and K-9 units searched the school but found no one else inside.
Doarnberger said the two other youths were arrested later at or near their homes when police learned their names and addresses.
The youths -- ages 14, 16 and 17 and from the Dundalk area -- were charged with breaking and entering, destruction of property and statutory burning. All three were released to the custody of their parents.
Outside the school, police recovered a computer that was hidden in some bushes, Doarnberger said. A stack of computer keyboards were also found near a broken window that police believe the youths used to enter the building.
During the search for possible other suspects in the school, officers spotted the fires and called the Fire Department.
More than a dozen pieces of equipment responded and brought the fires under control shortly after 4 a.m.
A spokeswoman for the Fire Department said the smoke in the building was so thick it took firefighters several minutes to find the flames.
A short time later, the principal arrived and told police that damage to classrooms, the hallway, lobby and other portions of the school made it impossible for the school to open today for students. Teachers were reporting.
Doarnberger said duplicating fluid was probably used to ignite the fire.
Francine M. Schaffer, assistant principal at Charlesmont Elementary, said a library work area sustained most of the damage. She said the room suffered heavy fire and smoke damage. Classrooms suffered mostly smoke damage.
Schaffer said the school, which opened in 1961 and has 480 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, would reopen tomorrow.
"It [vandalism] appeared to have been done at random" TTC throughout the school, Schaffer said.