Teen arrested in Gunn graffiti case

18-year-old also detained after spray-painting of school walls

Palo Alto police have arrested a 17-year-old and detained an 18-year old in a May 12 graffiti incident, which involved racist and sexist messages at Gunn High School.

The graffiti -- spray-painted over walls throughout the school -- targeted specific ethnicities and the school principal, mocked the school football team and made reference to the class of 2014, according to student newspaper The Oracle.

"The vast majority of it was either racial or sexual in nature," Palo Alto Police Lt. Zach Perron said.

Details were forwarded to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, which can follow up with "whatever charges, if any, they feel are appropriate," Perron said, including hate crime charges.

"This was a really aggressive action and a really negative action toward a whole lot of people," English teacher Jordan Huizing told The Oracle. "To act out in that way, there's either a real anger behind it or a sadness that turned into anger, but there's no joy behind this."

The graffiti was discovered in the early morning of Monday, May 12, by math teacher Rajeev Virmani, writer Shawna Chen of The Oracle reported.

"No one thought it was funny," Virmani told The Oracle. "Everyone was kind of shocked and confused."

On their own initiative, students took stacks of paper and rolls of blue tape and covered the messages. Police later documented the damage and maintenance staff painted over or washed off the graffiti.

Gunn Principal Katya Villalobos declined to comment on the incident.

As the investigation was pending prior to the arrest, Assistant Principal Tom Jacoubowsky told The Oracle he was concerned about the perpetrator's emotional state. "This person needs help, and I would really want that person -- beyond being held accountable -- to get help," he told the student newspaper.

The perpetrators are believed to be Gunn students.

The 17-year-old was arrested on charges of felony vandalism and conspiracy, which means a crime involving more than one person. He was released to his parents. The 18-year-old was detained but not arrested, though could face arrest later depending on the district attorney's recommendation, Perron said.

Chris Kenrick

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by randy albin
a resident of Mountain View
on May 30, 2014 at 10:34 am

also, note that the Gunn Alumni Association is active and successful. there are still incidents at Gunn High School. it's a great school so treat it with great reverence. best of luck and don't deface or disgrace such a great school, please

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Downtown North
on May 30, 2014 at 10:45 am

Can you tell us what groups or individuals are being targeted by this hate conspiracy?

Like this comment
Posted by student
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 30, 2014 at 11:01 am

Asians were targeted as far as I know. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by It figures
a resident of Greater Miranda
on May 30, 2014 at 11:06 am

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Raymond
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 30, 2014 at 11:14 am

No generation if free from the children of Bigots. There are some Parents here that are just as guilty. Is it you?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2014 at 11:28 am

Were these two students at Gunn?

1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I question the legitimacy of this story, by Chris Kenrick, and of the case itself.

I compared this to the version in the student newspaper, The Gunn Oracle, plus did a bit of legwork myself.

That one or more of our young people did a misdeed, there is little doubt, and they or their parents should be held accountable. I am questioning the characterization, by Perron, that this is a possible hate crime.

That, as reported in The Oracle, one of the messages started "Thank God..." makes me wonder if the utterance is a type of prayer, a religious utterance.

That it references the fact that Principal Katya Villalobos was re-assigned, from Gunn High to the Palo Alto Adult School, makes me think that the message in part was a political commentary.

That, as I confirmed walking the campus, the message was on the new Math Building, ironically labeled The N Building, -- and I have a strong suspicion that the alleged perpetrator was himself a person of color -- makes me wonder if this act, incomprehensible as it seems to many -- is a statement about Measure A the 2010 "Strong Schools" bond. Maybe this person wonders what part of the $14 million expenditure benefitted he or people like him, from his neighborhood, or with his interests. I too sometimes wonder about our expenditures.

I don't believe that being a member of a historically persecuted group would give one the right to, in turn, harm, harass or belittle others, or other persecuted groups, clearly. But I wonder why the Weekly plays up this angle, or what gives Perron the authority to characterize or judge the message or group of messages.

Also we have the unfortunate context that in 2008 people from certain parts of Palo Alto, near Gunn, and I am only guessing that the person here was from that neighborhood, families said that their sons were systematically harassed and profiled by the police here. This precipitated the replacement of Chief Lynne Johnson with Chief Dennis Burns. My understanding is that Dennis has done a good job, and there is less, maybe much less racial profiling - -of blacks and Latinos - -here.

But I've also seen photos or one photo of youngsters-- our youngsters, local kids -- on the front page of the local press, in handcuffs, if memory serves, and displayed as trophies with the tools of their allegedly illicit trade: spray cans, stickers, stencils. This is before trial, or before the right to defense. As in being tried in the press.

And also contextually to this Gunn "hate crime" incident we have a justice system that, especially in some parts of the U.S. does not guarantee Equal Protection, and that Gideon is not actually enforced, even 40 years later.

So I wonder if mitigating what this article or Officer Perron state about this case that some of what was done was a not-well-educated person doing a poor job of communicating ideas of political or religious nature, that are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

I'd like to know the exact content of these messages, and hear from the person what he was thinking.
And I'd like to know that he is able to mount a defense to charges that the State (which is still We the People) may bring.

And further, I am not sure I'd be so pleased with the cultural vigilante nature of the other math teachers releasing their students from the study of math per se to amend or destroy or react to what they saw, no matter if they found it offensive. Nor am I so proud of school administration asking parents to snitch on each other, as a means to hold someone accountable for the damages, via mass emails.

I think the Weekly could do a better job on this story and not arguably doing a disservice with shoddy reporting and fanning the flames of conflict.

What is done wrong by educated people, the powerful, or We The People -- in my name, in our name -- to me is a lot worse than what a young person, on his worst day, might do.

1 person likes this
Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 13, 2014 at 9:16 am

rick is a registered user.

Unfortunately we are all aware what a young person on his worst day might do.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 23, 2014 at 10:12 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

LITTLE green men, we should disinvite them.

Like this comment
Posted by rick
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2014 at 12:33 pm

rick is a registered user.

Too obscure for me, Mark.

Like this comment
Posted by George Orwell
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2014 at 12:35 pm

George Orwell is a registered user.

And for me as well.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2014 at 7:49 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Months later I have decided to close out this case rather than push for light to be shed and a remedy.

Another believable theory emerged that rather than a "hate crime" the vandal was, beyond being engaged in prayer and making protected political commentary, was also a whistle blower.

I'm gonna leave it at that. But I think The Weekly could do better. You should delete the comment speculating on what offensive words the writer had created, who as a group he or she might have been attacking.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Couple brings Chinese zongzi to Mountain View
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 5,909 views

Don't Miss Your Exit (and other lessons from an EV drive)
By Sherry Listgarten | 9 comments | 1,687 views

Goodbye Food Waste!
By Laura Stec | 4 comments | 1,428 views

Can cities handle our traffic mess? I doubt it!
By Diana Diamond | 17 comments | 1,151 views

"Better" Dads and "Re-invigorated" Moms: Happier Couples
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,139 views


Register today!

‚ÄčOn Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More