PIONEER, Ohio - Vandals hit the school, and most of the buses of the North Central school district, and then they hit the village, smashing windows at the Pioneer Bible Fellowship Church, a house, garage, and taking out several mailboxes.
The damage, estimated at thousands of dollars by police and school officials, forced the cancellation of classes for about 700 students in the Williams County school district and left residents of the village of Pioneer mystified and upset.
"Witnesses said that there were three males in dark clothes carrying a pipe," Pioneer Police Capt. Stan Bryner said last night. "They didn't take anything. It was just smash and run."
The night of vandalism began shortly after midnight Sunday and lasted into the early morning hours yesterday in the community of nearly 1,500 about 60 miles west of Toledo.
"I think it's terrible," said Cory Weed, 17, a North Central senior. "People can't respect our school, so they have to resort to vandalizing our school. I think it's pathetic."
Superintendent Stephen Lewis said the district would "absolutely" prosecute whoever damaged the school and its property.
"It's not minor mischief," he said. "This is criminal activity."
As the superintendent spoke, he was stooped over in the back of one of the district's school buses, sweeping broken glass off a seat into a cardboard box.
Besides breaking about 20 windows in the high school and junior high sections of the district's K-12 complex in Pioneer, the vandals broke windows in five school buses and two vans used to transport students to Four County Vocational School in Archbold.
"They busted up windows and display cases," Mr. Lewis said. "As far as we can tell, nothing was stolen. It could have been worse."
Besides canceling classes, the district called off all after-school activities, including freshman boys and junior high girls basketball games scheduled for last night.
Mr. Lewis said he planned to resume classes today and that North Central would use buses borrowed from the Bryan, Montpelier, and West Unity school districts until repairs are made.
School board members, teachers, and district maintenance workers spent yesterday cleaning up glass and boarding up broken windows.
"It's crazy, dumb people," board member Daryl Franz said after vacuuming the interior of a damaged bus. "It's just a lot of work."
Standing outside the school cafeteria, maintenance workers Kevin Lashaway and Steve Fiser hoisted sheets of plywood to cover jagged holes smashed in four tall windows.
"This is something pretty radical," said Mr. Lashaway, who has worked for the district for 12 years. "Once in a while you get a kid throw a stone and run ... But these people had time."
Pioneer police received the first of numerous calls reporting vandalism around town at 12:34 a.m. yesterday, Chief Judy Lineberger said. The reports continued to pour in for a half-hour, she added.
"Every three, four minutes we were getting another call," she said. "It was pretty fast-paced. We evidently were right behind them."
The crime spree began at the south end of the village, with windows busted out of three cars, along with the tail lights of one of the vehicles. The vandals then headed for the school complex, smashing windows out of most of the buses before breaking into the school.
"I was actually standing in the parking lot of the school when they busted out windows in the school, but where I was I couldn't get to them by the time they got away," Captain Bryner said.
Larry Bunting, a teacher in the North Central district who lives down the street from the school, woke up yesterday to find his mailbox and those of two neighbors smashed. He said he feared the vandalism was related to the bitter battle over two school levies this year and the board's decision to cancel, then reinstate, sports and other extracurricular activities.
"I think we have a lot of angry individuals out there," Mr. Bunting said. "They're angry when they cut things and some are angry when they put things back in .●.●. I just hope it wasn't levy-related. I hope it was a prank and they just didn't want to go to school."
Chief Lineberger vowed to catch the vandals and press felony charges against them, but she said investigators are unsure whether the school funding controversy played a role.
"I suppose there's that possibility, but I just can't believe somebody would be that upset," she said. "I'd sure hate to think we had somebody in town like that."
Contact Steve Murphy at:
or 419-724-6078.41.67942 -84.5535