Editor's note: This story has been updated to include video footage released Wednesday on Facebook by the Akron Police Department, which did not have the video, or time to review it, at the time the story was reported. After releasing the footage of what appears to be five minors, a police detective received a phone call this week that may lead to the identification of the children thought to have caused the vandalism.
A vandalism spree in Firestone Park has authorities searching for a pack of mischievous kids said to be caught on camera.
In the two weeks around Thanksgiving, an unknown number of people trashed four cars parked at two churches, ripped the external intercom systems out of the wall at one of those churches and another nearby. The door was jimmied open at Firestone Community Center. Inside, a Tiny Tot preschool room was ransacked, with glitter and arts supplies strewn about the classroom.
The damage is so bad that a quarter of the program's six-week class schedule has been canceled.
“My grandson runs in the door. He’s so excited to get in there,” Marie Smoot said of the preschool, which called her this past week to cancel classes.
“[The teacher] said, ‘The classroom is in shambles. You can’t take a child in there,’” said Smoot, who has informed the police and her councilman, Donnie Kammer, of damage concentrated in one block around the holiday. Authorities said camera surveillance at the city building caught images of three boys and a girl breaking in. The police department and the community center told the Beacon Journal to request that footage from City Hall, where the law department is withholding the video pending the investigation.
“If there’s that much activity going on, these kids will do it again,” Smoot said. “And they’ll do it somewhere else.”
It all appears to have started Nov. 11. Witnesses told police that the windows were smashed but nothing was stolen from two cars in the parking lot at Lifespring Christian Church. At the Firestone Park Methodist Church on Nov. 17, the passenger side of a 2005 Toyota Corolla was spray-painted. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, vandals slashed the tires and smashed the windows of another car there. That Saturday, the Rev. Samuel Martin phoned police to say someone had stolen the intercom box from his church, according to a report.
At Firestone Park Presbyterian Church that same Saturday, windows were smashed and tires were slashed on a community bus. The call box was tampered with, according to police reports. After talking to the pastor, Kammer told detectives the time Spectrum said the cable line was cut.
Police Lt. Rick Edwards said detectives believe the community center was vandalized around Thanksgiving. An alarm never sounded, and Edwards didn't have immediate access to the surveillance footage when asked about it on Thursday.
The preschool, which costs $35 a child per session, will hold one more class this week. The Christmas-themed class will end what is normally a 12-session program spanning six weeks. The final class will be in a different room. Staff members were still picking up after the vandals by the end of last week.
Kammer chairs City Council’s public safety committee. He’s big on security, joking that whoever committed these crimes would have crossed multiple yard signs announcing that the area is under surveillance. “I wanted to send the message: ‘Hey, we got cameras. Think twice before you do something.’ ” The councilman, who can be reached at 330-812-6600, is starting a fund and soliciting donations to install more cameras overlooking the church properties.
Kammer got the city to install cameras over the businesses on Aster Avenue this year, securing the east side of the affected area. Over the summer, he worked with the county to boost surveillance outside the Firestone Branch Library, located next to the recent crime. Now, he’s asking to beef up camera coverage at the community center in the 2019 capital budget, which should come together in the next couple of months.
Administrators who oversee the city parks and centers told Kammer a wire for the alarm system was disconnected, allowing the crime to go unnoticed for days. “I’ve still got my concerns there,” Kammer said.
“It’s not a normal thing,” he said of the volume and concentration of the petty crimes, especially at the community center. “I have my community meetings down there. Seniors meet down there. It’s really a safe place. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Those two churches are highly active. Obviously, I think we have some individuals who are causing mischief."
Anyone with information on the vandalism can call Akron detectives at 330-375-2490. Anonymous tips can be made at http://ci.akron.oh.us/ASP/tip.html.
Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.