HIALEAH (CBSMiami) – New surveillance tape obtained exclusively by CBS4 shows what investigators say is an alarming problem at several Miami-Dade public schools: young criminals using fire extinguishers to vandalize those facilities and cause thousands of dollars worth of damage.
Miami-Dade Schools Police investigators tell CBS4's Peter D'Oench that the tape shows seven teenagers inside Henry H. Filer Middle School starting at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, June 17th. One image shows a youngster spraying the baking soda-type powder from an extinguisher in an office. Another image shows most of the teens using their phones to take video of the powder being sprayed and then, authorities say, some of them post that video of social media sites.
Emirce Guerra, who has been principal of the Hialeah school for the past four years, says, "I just don't think that they thought ahead about what they were doing. They just thought it was funny. They thought it was like a water balloon."
She showed CBS4 how the teens entered a main office, causing most of the damage there to computers, telephones, printers and other equipment. Police said the vandals caused about $2,000 worth of damage.
"This entire area was covered with the powder as well as computers and the printer that you see and phones in the office. It's very unfortunate," she said. "Kids are not respectful of the school and there is the damage that they caused and the video that they took and they acting as if this is hysterical. They just thought it was funny. They took their phones and video and they were prepared for that and they put this online."
"This is disturbing?" asked D'Oench.
"Very much so," said Guerra.
She is also concerned because the damage is a partial setback in improving her school after a 2012 referendum approved spending for improvements at schools.
"It's unfortunate," said Guerra. "There is a lot of damage. There is the loss of a lot of dollars and this is a loss for us and the community and the community is directly and indirectly hurt by this. This is money that goes into the school for renovations and it's sad to see how this can go waste."
Spraying the powder can be dangerous. Inhaling too much of it can cause breathing problems.
Schools Police Chief Ian Moffett said, "We are asking for the public's help. If you see something, say something. Let's identify who the youngsters are and bring them to justice and deal with them and deal with their parents and make sure the schools get some restitution. We have great video and we want the public to know that we are watching. I want the public to know that we have good security in place and we are updating it and we want you to know that we will catch you but we need help."
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, "There is no greater insult than when one school is broken into and vandalized. That's why we find the acts reprehensible and we are asking the community as a whole to view the images and help us identify the culprits and let's bring them to justice."
Guerra said some teens on the tape look familiar and may have previously attended her middle school.
"Some students look familiar. These look like high school students and possibly some were our former middle school students. They seem to be mostly high school students," she said.
Now she wants help finding those responsible.
"I would like the community to come forward and in some cases even parents might be able to identify their children. There should be consequences in cases like this," she said.
Investigators say they want people to realize that vandalism with a fire extinguisher is a felony. So far they say there is no evidence that this group has victimized other schools.
Anyone with information that can help should call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at (305) 471-TIPS (8477).
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