BELLINGHAM - Two teenage boys have been arrested on suspicion of hate crimes for vandalizing Wade King Elementary School and a nearby synagogue construction site last week.
Sheriff Bill Elfo said the suspects - age 14 and 15 - were arrested at their homes on the evening of Thursday, March 21. He believes they set off fire extinguishers, smashed computer monitors, broke windows, tried to set a rug on fire with matches and sprayed vulgar graffiti inside the school on the night of March 16. About $16 cash and $600 in iPods had been stolen. Someone had carved a swastika into a desk.
Deputies later determined a door at the school had been left unlocked and an alarm system hadn't been properly set.
Police dogs couldn't track the culprits. School officials estimated they caused at least $5,000 in damage.
Within a matter of hours, someone reported vandals tried to set wood on fire at a synagogue under construction nearby on San Juan Boulevard, Elfo said. A swastika had been painted on the building. Nobody with Congregation Beth Israel returned a call seeking comment Friday.
Figuring the crimes were probably related, detectives interviewed many students, teachers and school officials to track down a few possible suspects. One of the boys eventually cooperated with deputies, Elfo said.
Both teens were arrested on investigation of malicious harassment (a hate crime), theft, malicious mischief, burglary and arson. Because the boys are juveniles, the sheriff declined to release their names. He did say they aren't brothers and neither boy had a lengthy history in juvenile court. They both live in the general area, and the younger boy is a former student of the elementary school.
Elfo added he has no reason to believe more juveniles were involved.
Bellingham School District Spokeswoman Tanya Rowe said officials took the opportunity to remind staff to properly set the alarm at Wade King. Classes went on as scheduled on the Monday following the vandalism.
STATEMENT FROM THE BELLINGHAM SCHOOL DISTRICT:
"We are pleased that an arrest has been made in the recent vandalism at Wade King Elementary. Thanks to the Whatcom County Sherriff's Department for their work leading to the arrest. We understand that the suspects are juveniles. This is a serious mistake with a need for restitution, but also an opportunity for the individuals involved to learn, change, and make positive choices in the future. We also want to express our gratitude again to our staff and the many volunteers who assisted in the clean up. Staff are still working with insurance on a damage estimate."