Eagle River vandals cause thousands in damage

Tuesday, May 22, 2018 - 14:21
  • A boarded-over door at the Eagle River Library. The door was broken April 19 by a man who was arrested nearby by Anchorage Police. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • A broken window at Fire Lake Elementary, which has been the scene of at least three incidents of vandalism since late March. (Photo courtesy of Christine Garbe)
  • A broken window at Fire Lake Elementary, which has been the scene of at least three incidents of vandalism since late March. (Photo courtesy of Christine Garbe)
  • A broken window at Fire Lake Elementary, which has been the scene of at least three incidents of vandalism since late March. (Photo courtesy of Christine Garbe)
  • A broken window at Fire Lake Elementary, which has been the scene of at least three incidents of vandalism since late March. (Photo courtesy of Christine Garbe)

UPDATE (May 8, 2018) After this story was posted online, another report of a broken window was reported at the McDonald Center. According to Anchorage Police, facility was burglarized on May 5, when someone broke into the building by breaking the front window. Once inside, the miscreants broke a clock and poured juice from a fridge onto the floor. The center also had a window broken in mid-April.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Reports of vandalism aren’t on the rise in Chugiak-Eagle River, but statistics won’t un-break any of the windows at Fire Lake Elementary School.

Or at the McDonald Center.

Or the Chugiak-Eagle River Library.

“It doesn’t feel great to work in rooms that are boarded up with plywood,” said Fire Lake principal Christine Garbe, whose office window was broken by a rock last week.

Garbe’s school off Harry McDonald Road has been at the epicenter of a springtime vandalism spree that has resulted in thousands of dollars of damage to public facilities around town. The rash of high-visibility vandalism began March 23, when someone arrived at the school around midnight with a can of spray paint. Garbe said the school’s security cameras captured a tall, thin male in a white sweatshirt tagging the building, the weekday home to 371 kindergarten through fifth grade students.

Garbe said the incident appeared to be isolated until the suspect returned on two weeks later, this time breaking a window and spraying more graffiti on the building. Garbe said cameras again caught the vandal.

“It’s the same individual, he’s acting alone,” she said.

That same weekend, someone — presumably the same person — also broke a window at the neighboring McDonald Center.

“The first couple times I thought, ‘This will stop,’” Garbe said.

But on April 29 at around 12:30 a.m., her office window was broken.

“Then I was like, ‘Nope.’”

On May 2, Garbe made a public appeal via Facebook for any information about the vandal.

“He entered school property from the neighborhood above the school,” she wrote on the school’s Facebook page.

Garbe appealed to homeowners to review footage in hopes of identifying the person.

“If you live in the neighborhood and have cameras we would love to hear from you,” read the post.

Along with reaching out to homeowners, Garbe said she’s been reviewing hours of security footage, working with the Anchorage Police Department and coordinating with the school district to try and identify the man causing what’s now estimated at more than $2,000 in damage. She’s even gone so far as giving out staff cell numbers to area residents in case they spot anything.

The vandalism at Fire Lake and the McDonald Center weren’t the most visible incidents of public mischief in April; that distinction belongs to the Chugiak-Eagle River Library, which was the scene of a fierce attack on a glass door April 19.

That time, though, cops got their man.

According to APD, at around 3:30 p.m. that day, police arrived outside the Eagle River Town Center Building, which houses the library, the Eagle River/Chugiak Parks and Recreation Department and the chamber of commerce. There, they confronted Robert A. Haines, 37, of Eagle River, who had allegedly kicked and broken a window on the door into the library.

During his arrest, police say Haines kicked one of the officers multiple times; he was jailed on charges of criminal mischief and resisting arrest and released on $300 bail later that day.

The high-profile incidents may seem like a spree, but APD’s numbers show vandalism this year appears to be no worse than last. According to the department’s online Community Crime Map, there were 56 vandalism or graffiti calls in Chugiak-Eagle River in 2017, an average of about 4.7 per month. So far in 2018, there have been 17 such reports, or about 4.3 per month.

Still, Garbe said the damage from vandalism adds up.

“It’s taxpayer money,” she said.

It’s also a blight on the community, she said. The school and nearby Mac Center are popular area recreation areas, even when school isn’t in session.

“This is a place where people come to play on the weekends,” she said. “It’s a community spot for a lot of families.”

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274

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