Police make arrest in Fire Lake vandalism spree

Monday, June 25, 2018 - 15:04
  • 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)
  • A window was broken sometime overnight May 18-19 at the Harry J. McDonald Center in Eagle River. The window is the third broken at the center this spring. (Photo courtesy Reid McDonald)
  • A window was broken April 15, 2018 at the McDonald Center in Eagle River. (Photo courtesy Reid McDonald)

Anchorage police believe they’ve caught the Fire Lake vandal in the act.

Patrol officers arrested a boy June 6 at around 3 a.m. after the Anchorage Police Department received a report of “a man banging on the window of Fire Lake Elementary School” in Eagle River. When police arrived, they found two broken windows and arrested someone they spotted running away from the school, according to a Wednesday press release announcing the vandal’s capture.

The youth’s name and age were not released, but police said charges had been forwarded to the Department of Juvenile Justice. APD spokeswoman Renee Oistad said she could not release more information because the suspect was under 18.

The elementary school has been the scene of ongoing springtime vandalism, as has the adjacent Harry J. McDonald Center. The two public buildings sit in a relatively secluded part of town above Fire Lake that’s surrounded by trees and accessed only by the two-lane Harry McDonald Road.

The spree began March 23, when spray-painted graffiti was found on the school. In April and May, windows were broken on multiple occasions at both the school and recreation center, which includes an indoor ice rink and turf field.

The vandal returned to the scene of the crimes a half-dozen times, eventually breaking at least three windows at the McDonald Center and five at Fire Lake — including that of principal Christine Garbe — as well as spilling juice on the floor of the McDonald Center and smashing a plastic clock outside the building.

Video of the suspect was captured on a security camera at the school, and he was described as a tall juvenile in a white hooded sweatshirt.

Garbe and McDonald Center manager Reid McDonald were convinced the same young suspect was committing the crimes. Garbe described the graffiti as “juvenile” and McDonald said the window-breaker didn’t steal anything aside from the ill-fated clock and juice.

Police came to the same conclusion.

“Over the course of the investigation, officers determined the same suspect was responsible. Each time the suspect committed the crime, school officials filed a report which helped officers develop a suspect description and eventually solve this crime,” read the Wednesday release.

The vandalism caused a heightened sense of alert in the area, with an increase in police patrols, a phone tree Garbe started with nearby neighborhood residents, checks by the local community patrol and late-night visits to the center by facility manager Reid McDonald.

“In my 21 years there we’ve never really been hit by any type of vandalism,” McDonald said May 14 at the Eagle River/Chugiak Parks and Recreation Board of Supervisors meeting.

McDonald said he installed extra cameras at the facility this spring. He estimated damages to be between $3,000 and $4,000.

On Wednesday, McDonald said he’s relieved and hopes APD “got the right kid.”

As for punishment? McDonald thinks it should fit the crime.

“I hope he gets community service washing windows somewhere,” McDonald said.

The longtime center manager said he’d be open to letting the suspect work off his sentence at the facility named for his late father, a hard-nosed hockey coach widely revered in the Chugiak-Eagle River hockey community. But it won’t be easy work.

“I’d grind him, it wouldn’t be the only thing he’d be doing,” McDonald said. “These windows are getting expensive.”

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at editor@alaskastar.com

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