A recent string of arsons and burglaries at two Antioch elementary schools, including the same play structure on consecutive weekends, has alarmed students and parents.
A Lone Tree Elementary playground was burned Oct. 1 and again a week later. Much of the plastic slide and other play features were destroyed.
About a mile away, large trash bins were set ablaze at Diablo Vista Elementary on Oct. 7, damaging the wall of the school multipurpose room.
Officials also discovered a building tagged with graffiti, some of it with racial epithets, Diablo Vista Principal Melanie Jones said.
"It's extremely disheartening. We have a very involved community of parents and students that feels very violated," Jones said.
The damage to the Lone Tree playground is estimated at $50,000, said Tim Forrester, the school district's associate superintendent of business and operations. There is no cost estimate for the damage at Diablo Vista, but it is expected to exceed the playground replacement costs, he said.
The fire was on the outside wall of the school's kitchen, forcing district staff to scramble to ready the facility for breakfast service Monday morning.
Administrators at Diablo Vista also found that a window had been broken and a laptop computer stolen from a classroom Thursday morning.
"It's just hard to grasp, especially at an elementary," Jones said.
Lone Tree parent Patty Ward is among those outraged by the arsons.
"This school is supposed to be a safe place for our kids, one where they feel like they don't have to worry that something bad is going to happen," she said. "When the kids saw (the burned play structure), their faces fell. You could see some of them were in tears and just asking why this happened."
Antioch police do not believe Thursday's burglary is connected to the arsons. They continue to investigate all the incidents.
Antioch schools suffer their share of vandalism and small trash can fires, but they typically are not of the magnitude of the recent incidents, Forrester said.
Said Jones: "Every year, each school has some kind of vandalism, but it's much more sporadic."
Antioch Unified planned to place extra security guards at each site over the weekend and have janitors move as many large portable trash bins as possible indoors, Forrester said.
District officials ask those who live near schools to call police if they spot suspicious activity or trespassers.
"There's no way that security can sit there all the time, or custodians will spot something. We need more eyes watching and residents calling police," Forrester said.
Staff writer Robert Salonga contributed to this story. Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
Courtesy of Patty Ward
The playground at Lone Tree Elementary was struck twice by arsonists in two weekends. The damage is estimated at $50,000.