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Vandals cause $80,000 in damage at middle school

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Wilson Middle School staffers and community members are reeling after a small group of vandals threw paint, broke glass and toppled tables, shelves and computers throughout eight classrooms causing more than $80,000 damage at the school Tuesday.

The personal records, teaching files and collections of several teachers were lost in the paint, glitter and glass and the water overflowing from some sinks.

Three teen girls can be seen walking outside the building Tuesday sometime between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., according to security video released by Albuquerque Public Schools police Wednesday afternoon.

Police believe those girls caused a minimum of $80,000 damage to the school, on San Pedro north of Gibson.

And that does not include the expense of replacing laptop computers, large smart screens and projection cameras, in addition to science lab materials smashed in the attack, said John Dufay, Albuquerque Public Schools’ director of maintenance and operations.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said amid the mess Wednesday, noting it was one of the most extreme vandalism cases not involving a fire he has seen in his at least 15 years at APS.

Science teacher Mary Erwin lost 24 years’ worth of books, plans and artifacts from her teaching career.

She surveyed her room Wednesday afternoon with red, teary eyes.

“I don’t understand it. I’m just, at a loss. I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.

Lawrence Padilla, project manager for Steamatic, the company called in to clean up more than $80,000 worth of vandalism at Wilson Middle Schools, photographs paint splatters in a science classroom. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Lawrence Padilla, project manager for Steamatic, the company called in to clean up more than $80,000 worth of vandalism at Wilson Middle Schools, photographs paint splatters in a science classroom. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

The vandals broke her prized teaching artifact, a section of whale mouth filtering system that she said her students loved to look at. The live Madagascar cockroaches were uninjured, but the vandals did dump paint into a fish tank.

The fish tank was in the room belonging to teacher Chris Lopez, the partner of the school’s assistant principal, Tamara Lopez. The vandals wrote an insulting phrase specifically about the Lopezes on the chalkboard in his room, a detail that led investigators to believe the vandals are current or former students at the school.

Vandals struck Wilson Middle School on Tuesday, causing at least $80,000 in damage. This room was one of eight hit. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Albuquerque Public Schools spokesman Rigo Chavez walks among vandalism debris at Wilson Middle School on Wednesday. This storage room between art and science classrooms was vandalized Tuesday. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

“It’s clearly the work of kids. They didn’t take computers,” principal Ann Piper said Wednesday afternoon.

She and Dufay said an inventory will be done once the vandalized rooms are cleaned. That will determine what the district will need to replace.

But Piper said the eight teachers lost years of personal work that can’t be easily replaced. She said anyone wishing to help can focus on helping the teachers rebuild their personal classroom supplies. She said anyone wishing to help may call her at 505-259-0659.

“We just appreciate any help the community can give us in figuring out who was responsible and helping students in general understand how devastating this is and expensive this is,” she said, noting that each destroyed textbook costs about $70.

Five Promethean interactive whiteboards were destroyed; they cost about $5,000 apiece. Five small projection cameras, worth about $2,100 apiece, were destroyed, according to Dufay.

And desktop computers, monitors and keyboards were covered in paint taken from the art supply closet.

A custodian alerted APS police to the damage Tuesday afternoon about 2:30.

APS spokesman Rigo Chavez said the custodian had gone into the cluster of classrooms at the school in the morning and turned the alarm off and left it off while working around campus, which is not against protocol.

Dufay said school policy requires custodians to lock the doors behind them when they leave a building.

He said APS police are investigating how the vandals got into the rooms, noting there were no signs of forced entry through window or doors.

Chavez said APS police detectives spent Wednesday interviewing Wilson teachers to help identify the three teens captured on surveillance.

The classrooms will be back in operation by the time students return from winter break on Jan. 5, Chavez said.

Teens in video
Albuquerque Public Schools police posted surveillance video on the department’s Facebook page.



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