Teen suspects charged in school burglary

Posted: Monday, August 12, 2002

Two suspects nabbed by police Sunday morning at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School allegedly spent several hours hatcheting doors, breaking windows and stealing more than $500 in cash.

School authorities estimated damage at roughly $20,000.

Police said today that Michael D. Johnson, 19, and a boy, 17, whose name is not being released, were arrested around 10 a.m. in the woods near the middle school. Police were called after a teacher saw the teen-agers running from the school.

The teens are charged with one count each of second-degree burglary, second-degree criminal mischief and second-degree theft, all felonies, and possession of burglary tools, a misdemeanor.

Police said the teens are suspects in two other burglaries at the middle school this summer, and at least two other suspects may be at large.

Police alleged that on Sunday the two boys broke into the school through a window by using a spring-loaded punch, said Lt. Walt Boman. A punch is a tool about the size of a ballpoint pen with a sharp point at the tip. When retracted against a spring and released, the tip is capable of shattering a window.

Once inside the school, the teens allegedly managed to avoid tripping the alarm system and went undetected for several hours, said Boman. He declined comment on how the burglars evaded the alarms and how long they were in the school.

Principal Les Morse said he didn't know how the alarm system was foiled. He also said he didn't know whether late-night or early morning cleaning crews were in the building at the time of the burglary.

The boys allegedly entered 51 school rooms by breaking through 28 doors and corridor windows with a hatchet, a hammer, the window-punch and a Leatherman tool, Boman said.

Morse said school maintenance crews roughly estimated the damage to be $20,000, but an exact figure may not be known for another two weeks.

"In many ways the damage was just to be destructive," said Morse. "They completely destroyed one door with some type of implement. This door eventually leads to a room, which leads to another room that contains our vault, which would have been empty anyway since it is summer. But I guess there aren't many young people that would know that."

Morse said several file cabinets also were destroyed, desks were rifled through, and personal items belonging to teachers may have been stolen.

Boman said when police caught the suspects in nearby woods they found a bag containing CDs, a purse, a hatchet and other tools.

He said police also found an undisclosed amount of cash on the teens. Police believe the cash was taken primarily from administrative offices and teachers' desks.

Boman said the arrested youths are suspects in burglaries of July 24 and July 29 at the middle school. It is not clear whether anything was stolen during the first two break-ins, and the purpose was to vandalize the school, he said.

"If they were involved in the first two they probably chose to hit DZ again because they were successful the first time," Boman said.

Morse said four computers were destroyed and several windows were broken during the previous burglaries.

Maintenance crews began repairing damage to the building today, Morse said. Repairs are expected to be done by the Aug. 28 start of the school year.

Morse also said the district will be looking at ways to improve security near the back of the building, where it seems the teens gained access. He said the district will consider using funds left over from the bond issue used to build the school nine years ago.

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com. Empire reporter Julia O'Malley contributed to this report.

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