PALMETTO, Florida -- Vandals targeted a Bay area school's agriculture program not once, but twice in just 12 days. School officials say the damage is significant.
The vandalism at Lincoln Middle School comes at the worst time possible, when the Manatee School District is going through a severe economic crisis. Finding the money to replace and rebuild what vandals destroyed will be tough, but the staff is determined to find a way.
"Started with two chickens, now have this world class system," says Ronnie King, principal at Lincoln Middle School.
It's an agricultural program, King says, that has taken eleven years to build at Lincoln Middle School. Now, it's been crippled by vandals.
"They've broken different pieces, [they're] no longer usable," says King, referring to 15 broken hydroponic planters. Students recently grew strawberries in them. King says the cost to replace all 15 is about $3,500.
King says the most heartbreaking destruction is to the Tilapia fish farm. School staff found more than 100 fish dead, killed when vandals dumped the air pump into the water.
"It's also the time and the labor our families and students put into building this program. They're here before school, after school, throughout the summer time, and some weekends," says King.
Vandals tried finishing over the weekend what they started on June 5, when they first targeted the school's agricultural program.
"Twice in two weeks," says King. The first time hurt, but the second time, King says, is more painful. He says, "It's like adding insult to injury that's already there."
Palmetto police are investigating. Deputy Chief Scott Tyler says, "We think it's kids, [who] for whatever reason want to vandalize. Why? Not sure."
If vandals strike a third time, Tyler says it will be one too many.
"Hopefully, the vandals will come back. If they do, we'll have a surprise for them," says Tyler.
For now, King and his staff will re-grow the program. King says, "Rebuilding the program, fixing what's broken, for us it's not an option. We have no choice. We will and improve upon what was already here."
Palmetto police say this prank carries serious penalties because the damage is in the thousands of dollars. It's a felony charge and a cruelty to animals charge for killing the fish.
Officers were able to lift a fingerprint that may give them a break in the case.
If anyone has information on this crime, they can call Palmetto police or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-634-8477. One can remain anonymous and receive a reward. The school will need help. Anyone interested can give Principal King a call at 941-721-6840.