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March 03, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Middle School vandals caught Middle School vandals caught (March 03, 2004)

Police arrest two minors in connection with hamster's death and classroom trashing

by Rachel Metz

The sad mystery surrounding a middle school class hamster's death may be solved with the arrest of two juveniles who have been linked to the case, police confirmed Monday.

Two minors were arrested Friday in connection with a vandalism incident at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School the weekend of Feb. 20, where they allegedly ransacked a classroom and killed a class hamster, Marshmallow.

The minors allegedly entered a classroom through an open window, writing graffiti on walls, smashing musical instruments, spraying a fire extinguisher around the room and re-naming some computer files. The vandals eviscerated Marshmallow and hung the hamster on the room's doorknob. Two other hamsters, Susie Q. and Shirley Temple, were unharmed.

Damage from the vandalism totaled about $2,000, police said.

School resource officer Tom Pohl said he was glad to have the suspects in hand. He couldn't say how they were apprehended or if more perpetrators could be involved.

"It was nice to wrap it up quickly, not have it linger for very long," he said.

The case will be forwarded to the county district attorney and will be handled in juvenile court, Detective Kara Apple said. If convicted, the minors could face consequences including fines, community service, time in juvenile hall or restitution to the school, she said.

With the animal torture and killing and classroom ransacking, this case is unusual, Apple said. Typical school vandalism is graffiti on the outside of the building, she said. Also, neither she nor Pohl know of any such cases during their time with the department.

"So we're just glad we found who's responsible for this," she said.

Police do not think the JLS vandalism is related to any other vandalism incidents at local schools, such as a bevy of 11 windows broken at Palo Alto High School this past weekend.

The windows were broken on the west side of the school's girls' gym between 11 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. Saturday, Deputy Superintendent Bob Golton said. It will cost $1,500 to replace the windows, he said.

In a phone message Monday Paly assistant principal Chuck Merritt said broken glass was scattered around the gym's dance studio and an office.

"Glass was thrown all the way across the coaches office, which is a pretty big space," he said.

There are no known suspects, Golton said.

Despite the proximity of the incidents, Apple said she doesn't think school vandalism is on the rise.

"I don't see this as being in a recent trend," she said.

Rachel Metz can be e-mailed at rmetz@paweekly.com


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