Fire, theft, vandalism reported at schools

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reports of arson, vandalism and theft at three local schools remained under investigation this morning, officials said today.

A fire in a maintenance-storage building at Warren Central High School was discovered Sunday night, and Tuesday night or early today vandals broke into Vicksburg High School and Porters Chapel Academy.

PCA reported building damage as well as cash and a television missing, while VHS and WCHS sustained damage to buildings and equipment.

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Estimated costs of damages were not available this morning, and no suspects had been identified by police, fire, deputies or school officials.

“We have every intention of doing everything we can to catch and prosecute whoever is responsible for this,” said PCA Headmaster Doug Branning. Police this morning were photographing the scene, checking for fingerprints and reviewing surveillance video footage, Branning said.

Damage at the private K-12 school on Porters Chapel Road includes a broken classroom window, the glass panel of an office door and the lock on another office door, he said.

“They were apparently looking for cash,” he said, and an undisclosed amount of money was missing from the financial office. A television was missing from a classroom.

“This is a revolution,” was scrawled in erasable marker on a classroom whiteboard, Branning said.

The break-in was discovered this morning around 6:50 when a teacher arrived at the school on Porters Chapel Road. When students arrived, they were directed to the gym and not allowed into classrooms during the investigation.

At Vicksburg High School at City Park, a janitor saw two men or boys in the building just before midnight and called 911, said school resource officer Dewayne Sims.

“We’re not sure what time they got into the building,” he said. The two entered by breaking a classroom window. They discharged two fire extinguishers in downstairs hallways and upstairs damaged a janitor’s closet and entered at least one other classroom, where they turned over some desks, Sims said. It was at that point that the janitor heard the commotion and approached.

The men ran from the janitor, left the building but re-entered it by breaking a glass door and then exited near the cafeteria, Sims said. It was not clear why they re-entered the building.

The vandals’ faces were hidden by masks or some other coverings, Sims said. No weapons were seen, and nothing was reported missing from the school.

Sims and police responded, and the investigation included looking for prints as well as checking surveillance videos. Most of the damage was cleaned up before students arrived.

The fire at Warren Central High School was set sometime between Friday after school and Sunday, Sheriff Martin Pace said. The fire had burned itself out by the time firefighters were called Sunday night after a school official noticed soot around a door of a storage shed behind the ROTC room at the back of the school on Mississippi 27.

Sims and fire investigators found damage to the shed and a Cub Cadet utility vehicle that is used to carry band equipment.

One of the fenders and a front tire of the vehicle were damaged, Pace said, and a plastic storage container of paper was burned.

No motive has been disclosed, but the state Fire Marshal’s Office is assisting with the investigation because the fire was set on school property, Pace said.