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By Brandon Mattingly
Landmark News Service
Four suspects have been identified in connection with the vandalism that occurred at the new Washington County High School facility on Friday morning, Aug. 22.
William K. Gibson, Raymond C. Witten and Devin D. Abell, each 18 years old, and an unnamed 17-year-old were listed as suspects in a release on the Springfield Police Department's Facebook page on Sunday. All four suspects are 2014 graduates of Washington County High School.
Washington County Superintendent Robin Cochran said Friday that the perpetrators appeared to have entered the building around 2 a.m., spray painting various phrases and images — some obscene in nature — on both the interior and exterior of the building.
"I don't see any structural damage or anything broken, so to speak," said Springfield Police Chief Jim Smith on Friday. "Right now, there doesn't appear to be anything stolen, just spray painting it looks like.
"It's unfortunate. I hate that it's happened," he added. "We patrol as much as we can, but (the building) kind of sits far back off the road and it's kind of a big complex, so it's hard to patrol in that great of detail. Hopefully the cameras will yield something and we can go from there."
Cochran, Smith and other officials reviewed surveillance footage from the facility on Friday. Smith said on Monday that identifying the suspects required another measure.
"We were trying to think of some places you'd go to buy spray paint and we came up with the idea that we should check Wal-Mart," Smith said. "Sure enough, they had some video of teenagers buying spray paint late that night, and it matched the descriptions on the surveillance video at the school. From there, it was pretty easy to piece together."
Cochran called the video evidence "very telling" and said the hardest part has been trying to understand why the incident occurred.
"No matter who it is, it's hard to understand the motive behind why you'd deface anyone's property," she said. "This is supposed to be an exciting and positive opportunity for our students, but to dampen it with a senseless act is frustrating.
"Always, when students are allegedly involved, it's disheartening for me to think, 'What else could we have done to reach them or to instill values in them that would never make them want to engage in anything like this,'" she added.
She said it doesn't make the situation any easier to comprehend when considering the former students who have been named as suspects.
"I looked at their behavior. I looked at grades and test scores. I looked at their attendance. I looked at everything. There's no pattern," she said. "There is nothing to help me understand why it happened. I don't know if they felt like it was a prank, but it obviously wasn't. The damage is significant, and there are repercussions from the damages in terms of timelines and resources. There's a triple effect to what happened."
According to Smith, no arrests have been made, but he said the suspects have been cooperative.
"We were under the initial impression, from the video, that there were three, but through the course of interviewing people, there turned out to be four people," Smith said. "They're remorseful, but we're going to present all of the facts to the Commonwealth attorney and let them decide to indict them or whatever we're going to do. Justice will be served."
He added that it's too early to tell if the juvenile suspect will be tried as an adult.
"Obviously, we're going to present it to the juvenile authorities and go from there," he said.
The cost to repair the damage done by the spray painting has yet to be determined, but Cochran said it is expected to be in the "thousands of dollars," most of which will be for the labor to make the repairs.
"We were at a point where the deadline was tight to move in by fall break and this just delays it even more, so that's disappointing as well," Cochran added. "We've worked very hard to push forward on time."
She also said that some of the messages do not hinder administration's hopes of moving in during the October break, but that others will have to be addressed before the facility is officially opened.
"Because of the nature of some of the graffiti, no one needs to look at that or see that," she said. "We will work with Alliance to start the clean-up process. Some of the areas that were painted were areas that will require a specialist to come back. It will require the whole thing be done, because if not, it will show variations of colors."
One of those areas is the exterior installation finishing system (EIFS), which lines the exterior walls.
For Cochran, the most disappointing aspect of the vandalism is that it dampens a nearly completed project that Washington County students could be proud of.
"It's disappointing and discouraging and senseless. That's probably the hardest part to grasp with this, because you don't hurt adults, you hurt kids with this," she said. "I don't have much tolerance, and I don't think the people of Washington County have much tolerance, for harming kids and putting them in situations where it affects them."
The graffiti included several instances where the letters "MC" were displayed, apparently in an effort to pass blame to Washington County High School's athletic rivals in Marion County. In preparation for this past weekend's Alumni Bowl at WCHS — scheduled to be a doubleheader involving both schools — additional officers were deployed to the venue. Though the games were eventually canceled due to heat, Cochran commended Marion County Superintendent Taylora Schlosser for her help, as well as the current students, who did not react to the incident.
"I had great conversations with Taylora to make sure there were no problems at the game," Cochran said. "The kids handled it well, and they didn't jump to conclusions and want to retaliate."
Smith said the investigation is still ongoing and that the department is prepared to act on any further developments.