The latest break-in occurred early Tuesday morning at Rosspoint Elementary School, where a surveillance camera videotaped at least two intruders, one of whom was shown busting open the school's main office door in the front hallway after reportedly entering the school through a library window.
It was the third break-in at the school since Labor Day weekend, bringing the overall estimated cost of damaged property and stolen material to $3,424, according to the school district.
Another break-in at James A. Cawood High School and the school's football fieldhouse on Oct. 30 resulted in more than a $10,000 loss when a computer, six security cameras, two camcorders, 20 pairs of shoes, eight sets of headgear and eight shoulder pads were among several items stolen.
Break-ins earlier this year at Evarts and Cumberland high schools also cost the district more than $10,000 in vandalized property and other damaged or stolen material. Another $400 in damage was lost during a break-in at Wallins Elementary School in early October. Arrests have only been made in the Evarts and Cumberland incidents.
“It's coming out of taxpayers' pockets. It's taking money away from the kids,” said Jim Middleton, safe schools coordinator for Harlan County Schools. “The estimated damage and materials that they've taken is in excess of $24,000. That could pay a teacher's salary for a year.”
Middleton said some female teachers at Rosspoint Elementary School have become hesitant to work at the school during after-school hours or on the weekends because they're “afraid to be in the building” and that students are expressing fear and confusion.
“It's having an effect on students and our teachers, in addition to the monetary costs,” he said.
Videotaped images from the school's surveillance camera show what appears to be a young, slender male wearing a camouflage jacket and camouflage pants. He was also wearing a dark hat with a light emblem on the front and appears to have dark hair with sideburns, as well as a slight limp in his walk. The limp, however, could be attributed to the surveillance footage, Middleton said.
Middleton said the individual filmed during the break-in has a similar build to one of the two intruders caught on surveillance at JACHS and the school's fieldhouse, which was entered by cutting a lock. Both were wearing masks during that break-in, but footage revealed a tall, slender build for one and a smaller, slimmer build for the other. The smaller individual, school officials believe, may be a female.
“We don't know if it's the same from school to school,” Middleton said, adding that the primary difference between the burglaries at Rosspoint Elementary School and JACHS is that more property was stolen from JACHS.
It's only speculation, Middleton said, but school officials believe some of the property stolen from JACHS's fieldhouse, again worth more than $10,000, may have been viewed as an attractive trade for drugs, which should raise a red flag considering most of the property is football equipment.
The break-ins appear to be taking place around the same time, between 1:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. when “dead time” is apparent at the schools. The typical form of entry is through a broken window. Middleton said the school district is making an effort to “have somebody around the clock” at the schools.
Middleton said it is possible that the intruders at Rosspoint Elementary School could be students or former students because of their apparent familiarity with the school. Last month, after the school's second break-in, Kentucky State Police trooper Rob Farley said he felt “the individuals were familiar with the school and the layout.”
But school officials are not sure if the latest intruders of Rosspoint Elementary School are tied to the school's previous burglaries because, while surveillance caught part of the last two intrusions, the videotape from the second intrusion was stolen.
Bryan Howard, assistant principal at Rosspoint Elementary School, said the break-ins have presented an uncomfortable atmosphere for his staff and students, who take pride in their school building.
“You walk in and you're ready to start the school day and once again you've got broken glass everywhere and rain and cold air coming through the library. Teachers can't teach because their desks are destroyed and damaged and their contents are thrown out. You feel violated,” Howard said.
Howard and Middleton are encouraging residents to take notice of late night loiterers near any school or vehicles parked near a school after school hours, as well as any unusual movement in a school at odd hours, such as a flashlight in a dark room. Additional patrols of the schools have been requested.
Middleton said the KSP, which is investigating the burglaries, is “working on some leads.” He said anyone with information should call the KSP at 573-3131 or the Harlan County Sheriff's Department at 573-1313.
KSP Public Affairs Officer Walt Meachum and the KSP troopers conducting the investigations were not available Wednesday for further comment.