Sixty to 70 Toledo Head Start preschoolers and staff members were evacuated from their school in West Toledo yesterday after a substance was poured into the building's vents, causing a foul odor, authorities said.
The spilling of the substance is believed to be part of other vandalism that occurred at the school behind Toledo Baptist Temple, 5732 Douglas Rd. The church also was a target of vandalism.
Secular and anti-Semitic graffiti was spray-painted on the outside of the school and church. At the school, a side door was partially burned, two window screens were removed, chairs were put on the roof, and roof vents were removed. Egg was thrown on one church window, and another was broken, authorities said.
“We know it was probably gang-related, based on what the police experts have said,” the Rev. Billy V. Bartlett said. “Recently, we've had trouble with skateboarders. If this is retribution, we're not sure.”
Police Officer Larry Katafiasz said the vandalism and spill are considered part of the same incident, which occurred late Sunday or early yesterday.
The vandalism was found after two Head Start teachers complained of a strong odor in the building, which is called Temple Christian School.
About 2 quarts of potassium hydroxide, which is similar to oven cleaner but in a smaller concentration, was found in a hallway, Fire Battalion Chief Tony Gregory said. “It was mopped up with a bucket of water. A fan was used to get rid of other fumes in the building,” he said.
The teachers were treated by Toledo fire and rescue personnel. An unidentified pregnant woman said she felt ill and would follow up with her family doctor, Chief Gregory said.
The children and staff were moved to the church and then to the Macomber building, a former high school, at Monroe and 16th streets, authorities said.
They will be able to return today to the school, which Head Start has rented for about four years.
Head Start officials could not be reached for comment.
The graffiti on the school door and outside wall included an anti-Semitic comment and statements related to drugs. In addition to a secular slur on the church's rear outside wall, the phrase “420 crew” was written on the wall. Pastor Bartlett said this may refer to Adolf Hitler's birthday on April 20, 1889, and the group that was involved in the vandalism.
“In the 141/2 years I've been here, this is the first time something of this magnitude has happened,” he said. “We've had minor vandalism occasionally.”
About a week ago, Pastor Bartlett said skateboarders tried to set fire to hay bales that were being used as a decoration for a festival. When his son confronted the group, he said it turned into an “ugly scene.”
Police are investigating whether the incident is related to recent break-ins at other area churches.