Arlington, Mass., authorities believe 14 male students broke into their local high school to paint a swastika and homophobic slurs across the building for their "senior prank."
The students damaged the Arlington High School's vending machines, display cases, an emergency defibrillator, and several fire extinguishers. It's unclear if the suspects will face criminal charges.
“It’s sad because some of them are friends,” Annie Harris, a classmate of the suspects told WCVB 5. “It’s just kind of confusing that you thought someone was one person and then they go and do this.”
This is not the first time the town was plagued by hate speech; a nearby middle school was vandalized with swastikas just three months earlier. Days before that, the Nazi symbol was found near the entrance to a high school in Needham, a nearby town.
“Apparently it was a planned senior prank that spun out of control,” Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan told the Boston Globe about the most recent vandalism.
Ryan is working with the Anti-Defamation League, the Arlington Human Rights Commission, and the Arlington LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission to educate students about hate speech.
“There’s sort of a spectrum of responsibility here,” he explained. “We’re trying to nail down the details of who did what, exactly.” He said police are “engaging with all the stakeholders, and we’re taking it very seriously. And we’ll make decisions that are in the best interests of the community.”
Deborah Shields, the executive director of LGBT advocacy group MassEquality, recommended that the students enroll in "restorative justice" classes rather than criminal charges.
“Having those students sit down and deeply apologize and listen to members of those targeted communities might really teach them something," she told the Globe, adding, “I think it’s just another really unfortunate consequence of the vitriol and hatred and homophobia that’s coming out of the current [presidential] administration.”