Thanks to a swift response from the Niagara Regional Police, a group of teens have received a warning under the Youth Criminal Justice Act following a break-in and vandalism spree at the old Virgil Public School.
Last Friday morning, local artist Filomena Pisano, who rents a studio space in the building, arrived to find debris scattered on the hallway floor in front of an office space rented by the Great Vision Church. She walked down the hallway to pick up the painting that seemed to have fallen from the wall, when she noticed that a window on the door had been broken.
Pisano and her son made their way further down the hallway, into an area where the Gateway Community Church rents a number of rooms. There, they noticed more windows broken and pamphlets strewn across the floor.
As they turned a corner, the two discovered more damage to doors, drywall smashed, what seemed to be urine on the floor and a trail of blood leading from another smashed window through to an exit door from the building.
Terrified, she and her son returned back to her studio to report the vandalism to the police.
Pisano sat down and wrote out her feelings in a heartfelt letter to the perpetrators. Rather than expressing anger, the letter conveys her confusion, fear and concern for the mental health and desperation that she was sure caused the vandals to violate the community building. “Perhaps you are upset with how life is right now,” wrote Pisano. “I get it’s tough to be in the world today. But that doesn’t give you a green card to vandalize.”
She went on to write, “I truly wish you can find it in yourself to tell someone what you did, and that you can spend some time volunteering with the community that you upset so much.”
She was thankful her son was with her when she arrived, as it helped her get through the initial shock. Pisano had only recently moved her studio into the old classroom, and the break-in left her feeling shocked and scared.
The Niagara Regional Police officer investigating the scene determined that the previous evening a group of six males, aged 14 to 16, entered the building and caused the damage that has been estimated at about $1,000.
The boys were identified and spoken to by the officer in the presence of their parents. In line with the provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the youths were cautioned with extrajudicial measures, which deal outside of court with youth who have broken the law. Their names cannot be released under the act.
Terry Weiner is one of the volunteers who runs Bikes for Farmworkers out of the basement of the old school. He would like to see those responsible held to account for their actions.
It’s disturbing to see that anyone would break into a church and vandalize it randomly, he says. “To see the damage, they took some rods out of a foosball game and used them to break windows, they ripped sinks off the wall, thank goodness the water had been turned off or the damage would have been even worse.
It’s disheartening to see that anyone would maliciously damage someone’s property,” Weiner continues. “It’s disappointing. I wish that their parents would do more than just a slap on the hand. I’d like to see them get back in the building repairing the damage. I don’t know what was going through their minds. It shows a true lack of character.”
Michelle Mercer, lead pastor at Gateway Community Church, opted not to comment on the incident for this article. As well, The Local’s attempts to reach the Great Vision Church were unsuccessful as of press time.
Building owner Lloyd Redekopp is happy that the perpetrators were caught. “It’s unfortunate, and we have to go up and clean up after their mess. I hope to speak to the parents shortly. The boys have admitted their guilt, and hopefully between them and their parents they can help with the restitution.”
Redkopp says it’s been a number of years since the building has had a break-in. When the former school is more active it tends to deter any vandalism attempts.
“We’ve been renting out classrooms to a variety of people that meet the needs of the community, and what we’re allowed to do,” he adds. It’s just been an extremely quiet summer, with COVID, though, and these kids were looking for things to do. Unfortunately, they got on the wrong side of things to do.”