By Joshua Winata and Jon Schroeder
The Cove Herald
A surge of vandalism in Copperas Cove that started last month has left an ugly rash across several of the city’s schools and churches.
Since the beginning of last month, the Copperas Cove Police Department has received 60 reports involving criminal mischief and graffiti.
“It all comes in groups. It goes up then goes back down,” CCPD spokesman Lt. Daniel Austin said. “It’s not relegated to any one period of time. It can happen anytime.”
Several Copperas Cove Independent School District campuses, including Copperas Cove High School, Copperas Cove Junior High School, Mae Stevens and Hollie Parsons elementary schools, have been the targets of graffiti.
On July 23, Lea Ledger Auditorium sustained about $250 of damage from initials and obscenities painted on several walls and support columns both outside and inside the building, according to police reports.
According to a police release, blue spray paint was used to deface the walls of the two elementary schools with gang references and a six-point star. The graffiti at Mae Stevens Elementary School referenced “107 CREW MOBSTA,” and the one at Hollie Parsons Elementary School read “07 HOOVER CRIP.”
Although one of the pieces of graffiti refers to the Crips, a gang started in Los Angeles with blue and black colors, Austin said he’s not aware of gang activity in Copperas Cove.
“It’s hard to say either way right now until we identify the suspect,” Austin said. “I don’t have anything to support either way at this point in time.”
The paint has been removed from the campuses.
“The longer you leave (graffiti) there, the more of a chance that somebody comes along and says, ‘I might like to do that,’” Austin said, adding that generally either the owner of the tagged property or the Copperas Cove Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association cleans up graffiti.
Most recently among schools, Copperas Cove Junior High was hit on Sunday, with some damage occurring inside the building.
“We need to catch these folks,” said CCISD Superintendent Dr. Rose Cameron, noting that school administrators’ time is better spent preparing for the upcoming school year than figuring out what to do about vandalism.
She added that taxpayer dollars are used to clean up the messes and repair damages.
“If you don’t have business on the school property, you shouldn’t be on the school property,” she said, adding that the school district is looking at enforcing trespassing more rigorously.
While the legal penalties associated with graffiti vary depending on the amount of damage and the category of property vandalized, Austin said either crime would likely be considered a state jail felony because the building involved was a school. That carries a 180-day to two-year sentence with a fine of up to $10,000.
A series of attacks on North Pointe Church last week are the latest in the rash of destructive activity. The vandalism began on July 27 when suspects slashed the fuel lines, tires and seats of two golf carts. The church, which is currently undergoing construction renovations, uses the carts to shuttle parishioners from a temporary parking lot across the street.
The reports continued to pour in the rest of the week. Church leaders said they encountered more damage upon arriving at the office the following Tuesday morning: sheds on church property had been burglarized, two riding lawnmowers were dismantled and an outdoor vending machine sustained heavy beatings.
On Wednesday evening, police were alerted to damage at the church’s construction area to a front end loader, which had its windows, air-conditioning system and gauges crushed by a rock. Vandals struck again the next day, smashing golf cart headlight and taillight assemblies, a glass sanctuary door and 15 windows on the church’s two vans.
Austin said there is “a good possibility” that the crimes were committed by the same person or group. Nothing of value was reported missing from the church.
Despite the targeted attacks, police and church leaders can only speculate about the motivation behind the incidents.
“It’s just meanness. I call them mad, mean, mischievous kids,” Senior Pastor Rev. Billy Sanders said.
Police have increased their patrols in the vicinity, and a church deacon has started a “watch list” composed of church leaders and volunteers who stay at the church from midnight to 6 a.m.
Last Friday, nine volunteers spent the night at the church and reported seeing three teenage suspects carrying baseball bats on the property after midnight and promptly alerted the police. Witnesses describe the suspects as white males between the ages of 13 and 16, two of whom had shoulder-length blond hair.
The church will continue monitoring the property in the late evening and early morning, and ongoing renovations will include additional exterior lighting and surveillance cameras to increase security for the church. Parishioner Danielle Key has donated two cameras to the church until more can be installed.
Sanders encouraged the perpetrators to turn themselves in to police in the interest of their own safety.
“There are other ways to have fun besides tearing up property. We hope they are caught and learn their lesson while they’re young so they won’t enter a life of crime and spend it in prison,” Sanders said. “We love them, but we just don’t want them to do things that are destructive, and not just destructive to us, but destructive to them.”
Several incidents have been reported in the northern area of town near where the church is located. According to police reports, various colors of paint have been used to tag vehicles and buildings with vulgar language and the initials “LBK.”