LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department is investigating what appears to be a short but destructive joy ride at Wea Ridge elementary and middle schools.
Eight buses, fencing and a playground was all damaged sometime late Saturday night into Sunday morning.
“My reaction was, ‘How did they do that?'” Tippecanoe County Sheriff Bob Goldsmith said.
It’s not your typical school vandalism by any means. Six of the school buses were driven and used to ram through the fence surrounding the bus lot.
“You see the ramping of a ditch, driving through the woods and over playground equipment, through the fence,” Goldsmith said. “They’ve been everywhere.”
The destruction was discovered just after 9 a.m. Sunday.
“You could see damage everywhere, even a school bus stop arm in the middle of all the debris,” said Sue Scott, the communications coordinator for the Tippecanoe School Corporation.
Scott said the vandal or vandals apeared to have driven a bus from the bus lot to the Wea Ridge Elementary School next door. From there, the bus was used to smash through the playground equipment, knock over a basketball goal and turn back around and hit the playground equipment again.
Two buses were found in the woods, another two stuck in the mud and another even used to T-bone a different bus.
”It’s just really heartbreaking because I don’t know who did this or why they would do something like this. We have a lot of questions,” said Scott.
Scott said damages will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Goldsmith said charges for the person or persons responsible will be steep.
”Breaking and entering, vandalism, criminal mischief,” Goldsmith said. “It’s all going to be higher levels because of the money involved, and you could have auto theft. They did not have permission to jump in these buses and look around for keys.”
If there is a silver lining, none of the buses damaged were in use. Scott said seven were decommissioned and set to be traded in, and one was a backup bus.
“This did not impact our operations at all,” Scott said
As for how the buses were started, Tippecanoe Schools Corp. said the keys to the buses were hidden inside because the buses had been decommissioned.
So far, Goldsmith said investigators have taken pictures of the damage, canvassed the area and are checking school security cameras. He’s encouraging everyone in the area to do the same.
“It takes everybody, so if they have heard something or seen something, give us a call. We’ll look into everything,” Goldsmith said.
Kids returned to school Monday morning. Scott said teachers explained to the elementary schools what happened to their playground and the importance of empathy and safety. No one was hurt in the vandalism.
The elementary school playground has been closed so the equipment that wasn’t destroyed can be checked to make sure it’s still safe. With the playground being shut down, Scott said Principal Clint Wilson did a little something extra to keep the kids entertained.
”To help make up for it our principal went shopping yesterday when he saw the destruction on the playground and went and purchased items for the kids to play,” Scott said.
Scott said there’s no timetable yet on how long repairs will take.
If you saw or heard anything Saturday night into Sunday morning near Wea Ridge middle and elementary schools, Goldsmith is asking you to give them a call. You can remain anonymous.