More than 60 students at Riverside-Brookfield High School have been identified as taking part in a homecoming week senior prank that got out of hand and ended up causing thousands of dollars in damage to the school early Wednesday morning.
Both school officials and Riverside police are reporting that most of the vandalism discovered just after 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 2 occurred prior to the arrival of a larger group of students who showed up to cover the campus' trees, bushes and sidewalks with toilet paper and shaving cream, an annual homecoming week ritual known as "the senior prank."
RBHS Principal Pamela Bylsma indicated that while most of the vandalism to the school happened before police arrived, a group returned to the campus later and did more damage.
"The first time there was vandalism was a bit after midnight," said Bylsma in an email to the Landmark. "Some more occurred around 1:30 a.m. Some of the students were the same with a few new students joining them for the second incident."
As of noon on Thursday, Bylsma said school officials have identified about 17 students as being involved "at the more serious level" with another 50 students "less involved."
Students involved in the incident were identified through examination of surveillance video, information from students and from online posts about the incident.
"We've had some people cooperating with us, because they were not in support of what was being done," Bylsma said.
Those involved were mainly seniors, although there were some juniors involved as well, according to Bylsma, and comprised a cross section of the student body.
"There were some athletes, some kids involved in activities, some student leaders, some kids that are not engaged in school. You really have a mix of everything," Bylsma said.
RBHS Superintendent Kevin Skinkis estimated the cost of damage to the school in the thousands.
"In regard to a dollar amount, we are estimating between $2,500 and $3,500," Skinkis said. "A majority of this amount accounts for the cleanup and [for] damage that was done to some doors and locks."
Bylsma indicated that some students could face criminal charges for their actions.
"There will most likely be police charges as well," she said.
Students will also face disciplinary action from the school, including paying restitution for damaged property.
"We are getting enough good information that we're going to be able to hold accountable the kids that did this," Bylsma said. "I don't think anything would go to the level of expulsion at this point."
At no time, according to Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, did anyone gain entry to the school. All of the damage was relegated to the area near the former main entrance to the school on Ridgewood Road. The area around the stairs and doors was littered with old furniture, spray-painted with messages such as "Senior Nation" and "Class of 2014." A baby crib left on the entrance landing contained four live chickens.
Meanwhile, depictions of male genitalia were spray-painted on windows and doors at the Ridgewood entrance, and other graffiti found at the scene was targeted at specific school staff members and police. Among the items recovered from the scene was a pornographic photo with the names of staff members scrawled on the subjects in the picture.
Someone also had apparently sprayed expandable insulating foam into the locks of several doors, damaging them.
A resident of Ridgewood Road called police at 12:40 a.m. on Oct. 2 to report a large group of young people gathering in front of the high school. When police arrived, officers reported that 30-40 teenagers were on the scene, throwing toilet paper in the trees. The crowd eventually swelled to between 80 and 100 teens, police said.
At the time of their arrival on the scene, police said they noticed the vandalism, but did not see anyone taking part in that activity. Rather, the teens that arrived while police were on scene were there for the traditional prank and to take photos of their handiwork. Several of the students talked with officers, said Weitzel.
"When [officers] pulled up, the damage was done," Weitzel said.
"The officers were talking to the kids who were TP-ing, and that's normal," said Weitzel, who stated the school asks police not to interfere with the annual homecoming ritual.
Officers remained on the scene to monitor the students and collect evidence related to the vandalism. No students were arrested or cited. However, police did arrest a 20-year-old man who was walking by the school as things were wrapping up.
Weitzel said police talked to the man to make sure he wasn't involved in the earlier vandalism. A computer check revealed the man was wanted on a warrant connected to a child endangerment case.