Aberdeen High closes after vandalism

No permanent damage caused by intruders

October 17, 2003|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Classes at Aberdeen High School were canceled yesterday after school officials discovered vandals had discharged several fire extinguishers inside the school, requiring extensive cleanup of hallways and several classrooms.

By the time school officials saw the extent of the damage, buses were already picking up students on their routes. Harford County Schools spokesman Don Morrison said officials need to make a decision about school closure by 5:30 a.m.

Students who drove or walked to school were dismissed immediately, while students who rode buses waited in the gym and cafeteria until buses picked them up about 9:45 a.m.

"I'm angry and disappointed," said Principal Tom Szerensits, who got a call from police at 5:30 a.m. "We're disgusted by the dirt, but proud of the way the students handled [the situation]."

Aberdeen High is in the midst of constructing a new $38 million building, scheduled to be completed in August. The ninth-graders are attending classes at the nearby middle school, while upper grades are compressed into the campus' north building during construction.

All 1,200 students, including the ninth-graders, were dismissed from school yesterday.

About 5 a.m., the Aberdeen Police Department received a call from school personnel indicating that there had been a break-in and destruction of property, according to authorities. Police found a white powdery substance from several emptied fire extinguishers covering large portions of the two-story school building, school officials said.

The intruders turned over items in some classrooms, but they did not appear to have caused permanent property damage, said Aberdeen Mayor Doug Wilson.

"It's a shame," Wilson said. "We're mad. We're upset."

A school official also found a dead frog in a biology lab, Morrison said. Another animal was found dead as well, he said, noting it was unknown how the animals died.

Once Aberdeen police, who are handling the investigation, finished their assessment of the damage, the school's maintenance crew was to begin the cleanup late yesterday while insurance adjusters determined the cost, Morrison said, noting an estimate could be available Monday.

School officials expect the high school to reopen Monday. Harford County schools will be closed today for the Maryland State Teachers Convention.

School board member Robert Thomas said yesterday that he was disheartened and disturbed by the incident.

"I have no use for individuals that engage in random acts of senseless vandalism," he said.

Though the damages did not appear initially to be permanent, Thomas said, "there's still a direct and indirect cost involved to put the building back [in order]."

Meanwhile, students and parents were left wondering who defaced the high school.

"It's sad to think someone did it," said Katie Gillis, 14, a ninth-grader at Aberdeen High who was walking past the school on the way to a friend's house. "If it was someone from our school, it's sad that someone who goes here would vandalize their own school."

Tanya Morgan, president of the Aberdeen Middle School PTA, said the vandalism has her worried.

"How did they get into the building?" asked Morgan, whose stepson attends the high school.

A similar episode occurred at Aberdeen High about five years ago when the small planetarium on the campus was vandalized, Morrison said.

"It's unusual, but not unheard of," he said of school vandalism.

Sun staff writer Lane Harvey Brown contributed to this article.

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