Vandals Strike Computers At Pine School

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Vandals robbed the students of Pine-Strawberry of one day in class and the basketball season's opening game.

Arriving at Pine-Strawberry Elementary School at about 6:15 a.m. Thursday, Superintendent Kathe Ketchem and Maintenance Supervisor Keith Howell were in shock. There was glass in and around the office.

"I came in doing my normal routine," Howell said. He found a door handle broken and things "felt off," he said, as he made his way from the southwest end of the school to meet Ketchem at the office. There, they both made the discovery that vandals had trashed the office.

"You wanted to cry because it was like a violation of the whole area," Howell said.

Ketchem immediately called the Gila County Sheriff's Office and began the "snow day" phone tree to cancel school for the day.hey also canceled the first basketball game of the season.

"Student safety was paramount," Ketchem said, pointing out that as many as 10 windows had been broken, leaving shards of glass everywhere in the busiest section of the school.

As word spread, teachers, board members and residents gathered at the school to help clean up the mess. Teachers broke down and cried as they cleaned.
In addition to the destruction of Ketchem's office, vandals also destroyed 13 computers in the computer lab.

"The saddest thing was that they destroyed some of the kids trophies," Ketchem said. Basketball, volleyball, football and softball trophies were stuck into the ceiling and lay in pieces on the ground. Junior High teacher and coach Gary Fishel gathered the pieces and has already taken them to a trophy shop to be repaired.

Plaques bearing graduate names and honors were taken and must be replaced.

While there are no preliminary damage estimates, it could cost the district $750 to $1,000 to replace each computer, Ketchem said.

Meanwhile, students may have to share computers during class, said Daria Mason, computer teacher and music instructor for the school. She spent Thursday cleaning the computer room and rearranging the computers that were left.

"I think it was hateful and destructive," Ketchem said.

With all the help and fast action, school was back in session Friday.

Sheriff's deputies documented the damage and dusted for fingerprints and the investigation is ongoing.

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