Vandals destroy 14 trees at high school

Trees lining the high school courtyard were felled early Sunday. - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
Trees lining the high school courtyard were felled early Sunday.
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

Students and faculty react with anger, sadness at the destruction.

Greeted by a circle of toppled trees in the Bainbridge High School courtyard Monday morning, Carol Earnest’s first thought was to blame the wind.

Only when she saw the telltale clean cut of saws through each trunk, did the reality that this was a deliberate act – and her own shock – set in.

“I was really surprised – I wanted to cry,” the BHS sophomore said. “I saw it this morning, and I couldn’t believe it.”

Fourteen trees on the high school campus – Katsura, dogwood and sweetgum – were destroyed over the weekend, their trunks cut through with a saw and the trees toppled.

Most ringed the popular central courtyard, although several trees at other parts of the campus were felled as well, including one planted as a memorial to the mother of a former student. A rhodedondron also was damaged.

Most of the trees were planted about five years ago, during construction of the new high school wing and gymnasium. Damage was estimated at $9,800.

“It’s definately having a very sobering effect on all of us today,” BHS Principal Brent Peterson said Monday. “It’s hard to fathom that anybody would, to that extent, vandalize and destroy, particularly in an area so central to the campus.”

The damage was done sometime after 11 p.m. Saturday, after the school theater closed up following that evening’s performance of “West Side Story.”

It was reported by a passerby early Sunday.

School officials decided to leave the trees where they fell until Tuesday, so students could see and reflect on the extent of the damage when they returned to class Monday.

Students reacted with dismay and anger, bristling at the loss of trees with which they themselves have grown through their high school years.

“I don’t know, look at it – it’s so destructive and worthless,” senior Michael Stephen-McRae said. “I can’t see it being a ‘senior prank’. It’s so weird.”

Agreed classmate Sam Calhoun, “It’s pretty bad. These are some of my favorite trees. They gave the school more life than it seems to have now.”

Faculty members were equally chagrined.

“I’m deeply upset by it,” said David Johnson, band assistant. “I think it’s outrageous, and I’m saddened by it. Thoughtless vandalism is one thing, but trees, plants, there’s a consciousness there. It’s not like breaking a window.

“It has really ruined my day. I hope they catch who did it.”

Mike Welch, a mathematics teacher, described it as the worst vandalism he has seen in 40 years at the school.

District officials have launched an investigation to find those responsible. The campus had been sprayed with graffiti a few days earlier, but the incidents were not believed to be linked.

Peterson said the vandalism doesn’t reflect the campus population as a whole, a message students themselves seemed eager to convey. Several crafted a spontaneous artwork in the courtyard to decry the damage.

“Anger and sadness are natural,” their statement said. “Hatred only hurts and destroys who we are and can be. These actions are a disease that can only be cured by our generation.”

Senior Mark Holsman suggested that the senior class plant twice as many trees as those cut down. Friend Erin Connor nodded agreement, saying, “this isn’t the mark we want to leave.”

Several high schoolers recalled how they had enjoyed sitting under the trees and reading, throwing their friends’ hats into the branches as a joke, or having to retrieve errant frisbees from the upper branches.

“Why would anyone do that?” senior Nina Arens asked. “They’re trees. They’re beautiful things, and I think everyone really appreaciated them.

“There’s going to be a lot of angry kids.”

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