COLUMBIA — Whether six trees found cut down at Rock Bridge High School on the last day of school was a senior prank remains a matter of speculation for school leaders and police.
The trees, about 10 years old, were found cut down in islands on the school's north parking lot. Principal Kathy Ritter estimated that the two pear trees, two locust trees and two walnut trees were worth between $700 and $800 each. Counter to a rumor circulating among some students, Ritter and assistant principal Diane Bruckerhoff said, the trees were not "memory trees" specially dedicated in memory of students who have died.
Ritter said it appears the trees were cut down with a chain saw sometime late on June 1 or early on June 2. No arrests have been made, and there are no suspects, Columbia police Detective Jeff Westbrook said, but the vandalism remains under investigation.
The words “peace out Rock Bridge” and “bye Hitler” were written in chalk on the sidewalk north of the school, and a plastic blow-up doll was found taped to the flagpole. Westbrook said that though the trees, the doll and the graffiti were found at the same time, no firm connection among those incidents has been determined so far.
Ritter said there was no discernible pattern to the destruction of the trees, which were not planted next to each other.
Some students, such as recent graduate Philip Atwood, say it was meant to be a senior prank.
Ritter doesn't think students committed the vandalism. One of the reasons she thinks it wasn't a senior prank, Ritter said, is that, though the sophomores and juniors were still in school on June 2, the seniors had graduated days earlier and were no longer on campus. She also said the seriousness of the incident went beyond what she considers a prank.
“Pranks have a comedic side to them,“ Ritter said. “This was clearly vandalism, and it was clearly a situation that angered and saddened us.”
However, Atwood, who graduated May 30, said he heard from other students that the destruction of the trees was meant to be a prank, though he said he doesn’t know who did it.
“I guess the people involved are keeping pretty quiet about it since it turned out to be a big deal,” he said.
Atwood said many of the seniors were upset about the incident because it ruined their ability to pull their own, less-destructive pranks. He said that he and some other graduates had planned to wear Speedos and take showers in the science classrooms equipped with chemical wash stations while underclassmen were taking finals on that last day of school.
“The administration is usually pretty lenient about pranks," Atwood said, "as long as they’re not destructive.”
Ritter said that in 2007, three sheep were released into the hallways of Rock Bridge overnight. The sheep, which were caught on security cameras, didn’t get far, though, because they could not make it up the stairs, she said.
Ritter said she thinks that even if the vandals turn out to be members of the 2009 senior class, it will not tarnish the class legacy.
“The act of one or two people cannot diminish what over 500 seniors accomplished during their time at Rock Bridge,” she said.