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One vandal caught

Vandals at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary School left streaks of paint on the walls, ceilings and roof as well as broken glass, overturned desks and damaged computers, according to Wadena police.

The suspects forced entrance and the vandalism occurred in several classrooms, hallways and the gym.

A 13-year-old male suspect was taken into custody in connection with the crime. The suspect was arrested at approximately 9 a.m. Friday. He wasn't identified because of his age.

The police believe there were at least three juveniles involved in the vandalism, said Police Chief Bruce Uselman. They are in the process of interviewing and investigating. A search warrant was issued for a residence and additional evidence was gathered that will be useful in a prosecution, he said.

Head Custodian Russ Andrews discovered the damage when he arrived for work at 5:45 a.m. Friday. It is the first time since he started working at the school in 1968 that anything like this has happened, he said.

"It was kind of shocking," Andrews said about discovering the damage. "The farther it went the worse it got."

The damage to the school is extensive, said Uselman.

Early estimates add up to $10,000 in damages, said Wadena-Deer Creek Schools Superintendent Jerome Enget. The vandals damaged several classrooms, almost one half of the hallways and the gym floor. The wood finish on the gym floor needs refinishing and some of walls need repainting, he said. The paint splashed on the surfaces was washed off but left a tint behind.

The Wadena County Sheriff's Department assisted the Wadena Police Department during the initial search and investigation. The departments processed the scene thoroughly, Uselman said. They obtained evidence of shoe prints in the paint inside and outside of the school.

Uselman estimated the crime occurred early Friday morning between the hours of 3 a.m. and when the damage was discovered at 5:45 a.m. The investigation has not revealed a motive for the vandalism, Uselman said. Police suspect drinking may have been involved.

The damage occurred relatively quickly, he said. The suspects pushed over cabinets in the hallways spilling out the contents. They also overturned desks and tables. They scattered books, paper and supplies throughout the school. The vandals found the paint they splashed around the school in gallon containers in a storage room, Uselman said. They also poured paint in electrical boxes. The paint was water soluble and used for art class.

The vandals pushed five or six classroom computers on the floor, he said. The suspects did not get into the higher security areas such as computer labs and libraries that have a lot of computers. They could not access the administration office.

The police are still investigating if the suspects took anything from the school, Uselman said. Right now, the police believe the intent was to break in and create damage -- not theft.

The suspect in custody is being held at a juvenile detention center pending the filing of juvenile petitions by the county attorney's office for the crimes of burglary and criminal damage to property. Both crimes are felonies.

The vandalism is unfortunate and Uselman hopes the juvenile suspects will get the help they need and an appropriate punishment, he said. He also hopes some form of restitution will be meted out.

The cleanup of the school is complete, Enget said, after a group of approximately 25 volunteers joined efforts with the custodial staff Friday afternoon. The custodians finished the job Saturday morning.

"I think we just had a wonderful response from our community," he said. "We're very thankful for the people who volunteered and helped. Our custodial staff did a great job."