INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Independence police are investigating after someone, or a group of people, vandalized a school playground — by torching it. The suspects were caught on camera.
A playground at Thomas Hart Benton Elementary School was set on fire. Independence School District said it was an act of vandalism.
“They burned it down,” a pre-K student said Tuesday.
A melted crawl tube and slide means kids are now playing with trucks and trikes on the sidewalk at recess.
Preschoolers at Benton Elementary can’t play on their equipment because the district said someone deliberately set it on fire.
“Outrage, just a senseless act, just completely senseless,” Public Safety Director Ken Jarnagin said. “Why would anybody do that to a pre-K, Kindergarten playground?”
Jarnagin said it happened just after 3 a.m. Sunday, and it was caught on the school’s security camera footage. See the footage in the video player above.
Four people were seen walking around on school property, and the playground eventually went up in flames.
“It was a pretty big fire,” Jarnagin said.
He said about 5 minutes later, the video shows a group that’s now seven people walking away.
Jarnagin said they may be in their late teens or early 20s. A group of them was seen getting out of a vehicle at the school earlier in the night.
“This is their place to go release, decompress and you took it from them,” parent and kindergarten teacher Jenny Gautreaux said.
She’s a mom of two kids who got to school at Benton and has worked there for 16 years. Gautreaux said her class had to avoid the area on a science walk because of the smell.
Gautreaux said this act of vandalism created a core memory for these kids — and it’s not a good one.
“Even the kids who aren’t in pre-K can see what’s happened,” Gautreaux said. “So instead of a great thing that’s happened, it’s going to be that one time the playground was burned down.”
Gautreaux wants the people behind the fire to learn a lesson: Vandalizing property is not OK.
Jarnagin and the district are working with police to identify the individuals in the video.
His hope: “The school district will prosecute and that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Jarnagin said.
In the meantime, these preschoolers will use the big kids’ play area, which is just a hop, skip and a jump away.
As far as replacing their playground, the district said they’ll get an estimate back from insurance in the next few days.