BAR HARBOR, Maine — A misguided student prank that closed the local high school Friday is causing a stink on Mount Desert Island, where five students have been charged with burglary and aggravated criminal mischief, according to police.
The students, four of whom are adults, broke into the school sometime after midnight and spread at least five buckets of lobster bait — or 25 gallons of fish pieces and guts — throughout the school’s hallways, Bar Harbor Police Chief Nate Young said. Each student is facing a charge of burglary for allegedly breaking into the school, located on Route 233, and aggravated criminal mischief for forcing the cancellation of school on Friday.
Friday was to be the last day of exams for MDI High School seniors, according to officials.
Charged in the incident are Benjamin Wallace, 19, of Mount Desert, Baily Stillman, 18, of Bar Harbor and Drew Dagraca and Jeremiah Minctons, both 18, of Southwest Harbor, Young said. A 17-year-old boy from Southwest Harbor is facing the same charges.
The five fled the high school shortly before 2 a.m. when they were discovered by a janitor arriving for work but they later were tracked down, according to the chief.
All five were arrested Friday morning and were released to their parents’ custody from the Bar Harbor police station.
Except for a few staff members, the school was mostly empty around 8:30 Friday morning and no odor was immediately apparent. Custodians had opened several hallway doors to the outside and set up fans to vent the building.
Matthew Garrity-Janger, principal at the school, said that the incident has pushed back end-of-the-year exams for students and rehearsal for the school’s June 9 graduation into the middle of next week. Some students who had planned to travel the day after school ended now are trying to make last-minutes changes to those plans, he said.
Garrity-Janger said that despite the actions of a few students, whom he said “made a mess for themselves” but declined to discuss specifically, the MDI High School Class of 2013 is “fabulous.” He said that even though school was cancelled Friday, many students and staff came to the school and either helped clean up the mess or offered to do so.
“It’s five kids foolishly committing an act of vandalism,” the principal said. “This is not a funny practical joke.”
Garrity-Janger acknowledged the accused students likely will face disciplinary action by the MDI High School board, but he declined to speculate what sort of discipline they may face. In serious situations such as this one, he said, school officials try to balance the appropriate discipline with the recognition that one bad decision by a student should not necessarily have undue influence on the rest of that student’s life.
“Even when kids are expelled, we make every effort to make sure they graduate and move on with their lives,” the principal said.
According to Young, a chance encounter between a Mount Desert police officer and the accused students before the incident at the high school led to them being identified later as the possible culprits.
Around midnight, Mount Desert police Officer Dana Austin stopped a truck Minctons was driving in Somesville when he noticed a taillight on Minctons’ truck was out, Young said. The four other MDI students were traveling with Minctons, one in his truck and three others in a separate vehicle that also stopped. As he spoke to Minctons, Austin noticed that five buckets of lobster bait and a ladder were in the back of the truck, Young said.
The group is accused of damaging a window screen as they broke into the building through a window in the band room, according to the chief.
Later, after the custodian interrupted the vandals, local police contacted Maine State Police, which sent a trooper with a search dog to assist. The dog tracked the intruders’ scent from the school along a trail that leads to Kittredge Brook Road where, according to Young, the vandals had parked their vehicles before walking to the school with the buckets of bait.
Other law enforcement departments on MDI were contacted and it did not take long to identify who was responsible, the Bar Harbor police chief said.
The four students age 18 or older are scheduled to appear Thursday, July 25, in Hancock County Superior Court on the charges, according to police.
At least two of the suspects came out of the police station Friday morning looking ashen-faced after their parents came to pick them up.
Young said that several parents of the suspects are upset, which is understandable.
“Their kids are supposed to be graduating,” he said. “This affects [the parents] more than the kids, but it’s hard to describe them as kids when they are 18 and 19 years old.”
The chief added that the suspects may have viewed the incident as just a senior prank but said they need to recognize that what they are accused of is far more serious.
“I just told [one suspect] that today is Day One,” Young said. “Hopefully he can get his head screwed on right.”