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Police charge 2 juveniles in Cumberland school graffiti episode

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Police charge 2 juveniles in Cumberland school graffiti episode

CUMBERLAND — Two juveniles face criminal charges for allegedly painting graffiti and anti-Semitic symbols on Greely Middle School and some surrounding homes the night of Dec. 1.

Police said the two youths face charges of aggravated criminal mischief because of the extent of the damage. Several buildings around the center of town were targets of "extensive graffiti damage," Officer Kirk Mazuzan, the lead investigator on the case, said at a press conference Friday morning.

The school and condominiums on Hawthorne Court had the most damage, Mazuzan said. Spray paint was also found on a car and on the side of a home. Red, green and gold paint was used to create "crude pictures, hurtful language and vulgar messages directed toward the school and others."

"Most disturbing of all, two swastikas were painted on a window" at the school, the officer said, noting that cooperation from the community and school administration led to a variety of leads for investigators.

After more than a week of talking to sources, "the individuals responsible for the vandalism have been identified," Mazuzan said.

He declined to identify the suspects, other than to say they are juveniles.

"Because the damage is over $2,000, both individuals will be charged with aggravated criminal mischief," Mazuzan said, adding that once his department's report is completed, it will be forwarded to the Cumberland County district attorney for review by a representative in the juvenile justice division.

The report will also be forwarded to the state attorney general "to determine if the crime is a violation of the Civil Rights Act," Mazuzan said.

Based on his interviews with both youths, he said, he learned that "this was a crime of opportunity. Neither juvenile communicated to me any bias for the graffiti, and both stated that the locations they hit were completely random."

"Now that we know that those responsible for the vandalism are being held accountable for their actions, we can breathe a sigh of relief," Kim Brandt, Greely Middle School principal, said in a statement on Friday. "Our school continues to be a place of safety, welcoming and inclusion."

She added that "this has been a sad and unsettling incident. But Greely Middle School, you have responded with strength and unity and your actions have made a powerful statement about who we are and what we believe in. Our statement is that inclusion, tolerance, kindness and respect are our norms. Bias, prejudice and discrimination have no place in our school. And they never will."

Emily Chaleff, executive director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine in Portland, said Friday that while the oprganization is disappointed the incident occurred, it is "pleased that the Cumberland police were very vigilant in pursuing the case.

"We are confident that whatever the consequences are for the juveniles, our hope is that they learn and understand how hurtful those kinds of symbols can be, and what their history really means," Chaleff said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.