Vandals damage ACS, but principal sees silver lining

Published 3:26 am Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Nobody ever likes seeing vandalism on private property, but Annunciation Catholic School principal Veda Matthews is trying to turn lemons into lemonade.

Matthews said that one of the teachers called her Sunday evening and reported that vandalism had occurred on the school property. Matthews and several other faculty members inspected the damage early Monday morning, and were appalled at what they saw.

Matthews said that the vandals had overturned several pieces of playground equipment, stolen some bicycles, and knocked over a beloved statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The statue was not only toppled, but parts of it had shattered and broken off, leaving the religious icon’s face permanently damaged. Matthews said the statue was a gift with historical and sentimental value, as well.

“We realized that they unlocked the latch on the gate and flipped it up like the back hatch of a car,” she said. “They even knew to turn off the power to the building, in case we had an alarm system.”

Matthews said that she was extremely upset and quickly notified the police.

A friend notified Matthews shortly after the principal put the photos of the damage out on social media. The friend had apparently seen the stolen bikes near the parking lot of Our Lady of the Angels Hospital on Sunday night, and thought that they looked out-of-place because they were brand new and with matching paint. The friend also noticed several young people riding the bikes through the neighborhood.

Matthews said that she quickly inspected the residential area surrounding the ACS campus, and spotted the bikes outside a house. The police were notified, and investigations determined that the five offending vandals and thieves were boys and girls as young as 8-11 years old, Matthews said.

Suddenly, Matthews’ anger shifted to pity.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I expected that it would be teenagers or something like that. I never guessed that it would have been children that young.”

Matthews said that the school’s Mass this week included comments about the vandals, and that the ACS students should pray for them.

“I told the kids at Mass that I was really mad, but we need to pray for these young kids, and pray that they will find God in their hearts,” Matthews said. “I told our students, ‘These kids aren’t as lucky as you are. They may not have had the upbringing that you’ve had, and someone to show them right from wrong.’ We’re going to remember those children and pray that maybe they will learn a lesson from what they did.”

Matthews also said that she was humbled and amazed at the school family’s support and the community’s reaction to the tragedy.

Volunteers quickly arrived at ACS to clean up the mess at the playground and Matthews said it was like new again in less than half an hour. Also, a father of an ACS student purchased two new statues for the school — one of Mary and one of Jesus.

Matthews said that Annunciation Catholic Church pastor Father Daniel Brouillette would bless the statues in a future ceremony for the ACS students.

“I have been very touched by the outpouring of support that we have seen,” Matthews said. “Since we put the news on Facebook, the comments have been wonderful and supportive. There was one lady who said she wasn’t even Catholic, but she was still so upset to see that the vandals had desecrated a religious item like our statue.”

Matthews said that the school will spend $6,000 to install a security system with cameras and an emergency back-up generator — in case any future criminals try to cut the power as well. This was not the first break-in to occur at ACS. An incident in the spring resulted in the theft of four Chromebook computers.

“Money is an issue for our school, but we just finally had to bite the bullet,” she said. “We ordered the cameras (Monday). It will definitely help to prevent things like this from happening again. Because when the police arrive, that’s the first thing that they ask, is whether you have security camera film that they can view.”