School vandals ransack classrooms, offices, halls at Chester Middle School

CHESTER — Vandals caused so much damage at Chester Middle School overnight Tuesday that administrators have canceled classes for today.

Investigators spent more than four hours at the school Wednesday, dusting for fingerprints and collecting surveillance tapes. Chester Middle houses 700 students in grades 6 through 8.

Two students suspected

The tapes showed two people walking through the hallway who have since been identified as students at the school, said Gaither Bumgardner, the district’s director of general services. Authorities are now searching for the pair.

The school hosted an arts show Tuesday night, and staffers told detectives they recall locking all doors before leaving. But Bumgarder said no signs of forced entry were found, meaning at least one entrance could have been left unlocked.

A motion sensor alarm went off Tuesday night shortly after 11 p.m., officials said.

A school employee and deputy walked through the building, but left after finding nothing unusual. The intruders might have been hiding inside during that search, Bumgardner said.

The case is unusual, authorities say, because the vandals appeared to target specific offices and rooms. They ransacked the offices of principal Steve Cummings and the school resource officer, for example, but left a nearby glass trophy case untouched.

“They were after folks in charge, I think,” Bumgardner said. Damage is likely to surpass $10,000, he said. Students sent to auditorium

The vandalism made for a chaotic day of school Wednesday.

Students were sent to the auditorium and told to wait there until administrators could find suitable places to hold classes.

Dozens of students used cell phones to call their parents to pick them up early. For those who remained, classes were held in the gym, library and other undamaged spaces.

Canceling classes today will allow for a speedier clean-up, said school board Chairwoman Denise Lawson. The school is expected to reopen Friday.

“They can really get in there and get the place cleaned up, and not have to worry about students in classrooms,” Lawson said. “It’s disruptive to the school day to have work going on. It’ll take some time to put everything back to normal.”

Matt Garfield • 329-4063 mgarfield@heraldonline.com