Vandalism at school in Richmond not isolated event

February 15, 2012 6:45:59 AM PST
Vandalism that caused about $1 million in damage at the newly constructed Nystrom Elementary School in Richmond on Sunday may not have been an isolated event.

Last month, over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, vandals entered the same building, broke windows, and caused more than $100,000 in damage, according to Charles Ramsey, president of the West Contra Costa School District Board.

Both acts of vandalism were tagged with the initials "DJ", Ramsey said.

Fire crews responded to the school Sunday at about 6 p.m. after a fire alarm went off. The vandals had broken a nozzle off of a water heater, causing water to flood the floors and create steam, which triggered the fire alarms, Richmond police Lt. Bisa French said.

Police arrived at the new school just after 6 p.m. but did not find any suspects on the scene, French said.

The school, located just off of South 12th Street, had not yet opened for classes at the time it was vandalized and Ramsey said it was slated to open in a week and a half.

Ramsey said that between 30 to 40 gallons of spilled paint and extensive water damage will keep the school from reopening for at least a couple months.

The paint and toxic materials that the vandals spilled on Sunday are now imbedded in the building materials and must be redone, he said.

"No matter who is at fault, we need to clean it up," Ramsey said.

This is the fifth incident of serious vandalism in the school district in the last four years, according to Ramsey.

"Some part of the culture that leads to this behavior has to be addressed," Ramsey said.

He said that proactive actions such as cameras inside the elementary school might be necessary to prevent future incidents.

"Maybe it's a disgruntled employee, its very coordinated, and premeditated," Ramsey said. "It seems too well thought out."

The new school was built to replace the old Nystrom Elementary School building in the 200 block of Harbour Way South, French said.

An earlier fire alarm sounded at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the old elementary school building, two blocks from the new building.

French said the fire department responded to the old building, didn't find anything suspicious, and left.

No suspects have been identified, but French said police are keeping the investigation broad, having reason to believe it was not the typical student vandal, but perhaps a disgruntled employee or a group of adults, French said.

Police said they have not made an arrest in either case.

Richmond police are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of a suspect. Ramsey said he is hoping the West Contra Costa School District will be able match the police reward of $10,000.


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