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Vandals damage JHS in 'senior prank'

By Greg Gelpi

What officials call a senior prank caused $7,000 in damages at Jonesboro High School.

"Several" suspects spray painted graffiti, damaged school property and even dragged two dead opossums into the school's cafeteria, Clayton County Police Capt. Jeff Turner said.

Breaking into the cafeteria around 1:45 a.m. Tuesday, the suspects immediately sprayed the video surveillance camera to mask their activities, school spokesman Charles White said.

"They had apparently brought in some road kill," White said, explaining that an opossum was tucked behind a drink machine.

Turner said the video cameras recorded the actions of two suspects up until that point, but that the suspects were dressed in black and were wearing ski masks.

"We've got some pretty good leads," he said, adding that two paint cans were left at the scene.

The fact that the cameras were spray painted points to an inside job, one done by Jonesboro High students, White said.

"There is an alarm system," he said. "We are investigating to see whether the alarm went off No. 1. We're also looking into whether someone may have known the codes."

The vandalism was throughout the school, including the cafeteria and around the school's grounds, White said. The suspects left messages in red spray paint on the baseball field, asphalt track, metal bleachers, floors, signs and columns, including the messages "05," "Class of 05," "seniors rule" and "black power." One of the school colors is red.

Damage to the baseball field involved "gouges" taken out of the pitchers mound, digging up home plate and burning "05" into the field, White said.

The damage inside the school building was confined to the cafeteria.

"They were not successful in shutting down the cafeteria," White said.

Lunchroom workers prepared bag lunches for students Tuesday, although some students called parents with cell phones and asked that lunches be brought to the school.

A "sizable crew" of workers spent the day repairing the damages to the school and removing the graffiti, White said.

Jonesboro High School is about 0.4 miles from Clayton County police headquarters. Turner said that the headquarters isn't as heavily staffed at night and that some areas of the campus that were vandalized are well off the street and out of sight.

"A lot of times you'll have kids operating as lookouts," Turner added.

The suspects face charges including burglary, criminal trespass and criminal damage, he said. Burglary and criminal damage are felonies.

White said school officials have not taken a position on whether or not this could jeopardize seniors' graduation if Clayton County seniors are charged in connection with the vandalism.

Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske, who graduated from Jonesboro High in 1978, has children who attend the school, serves as the school parent teacher association president and can recall his own stories of senior pranks.

A "good friend" stole the panther from rival Forest Park High School, Teske recalled.

"In return Forest Park responded and they hung a dead cat on our flag pole."

He said that some things haven't changed, but that it can get "nasty."

"It's a gross thing and quite frankly it was sick," Teske said of the dead cat.

The line between prank and criminal behavior is clear, he said. Anytime something is "destroyed" or breaks criminal code it crosses that line.