Sheriff’s Office Moves Quickly to Identify Local Teens and Motives
The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) has identified five teenagers as suspects in the Oct. 1 vandalism of the Ashburn Colored School.
The juveniles, three 16-year-olds from Sterling, a 17-year-old from Sterling and a 16-year-old from Ashburn, have been interviewed by LCSO detectives, who will now work with the Office of the Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Loudoun County Juvenile Court Service Unit Intake Department to obtain charges related to this incident.
“We would like to thank the community and our local leaders for their outpouring of support and for understanding the significance of these offenses,” said Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman. LCSO will not release additional details about the investigation at this time due to pending court proceedings.
The historic one-room school house was built in the 1800’s to serve African American children in the county until schools were integrated. It sat undisturbed on Ashburn Rd. for decades until early Saturday morning, when it was found spray painted with swastikas, “white power” and other words and graffiti.
Investigators from LCSO moved quickly to pursue evidence collected on site and from sources in the community following local and national press coverage over the weekend, and concerns about what might be uncovered.
There was also a hastily called press conference Oct. 3 where county and other officials gathered at the school to ask for the community’s help in solving the crime, and show their collective outrage, unity and determination to accelerate fundraising for the restoration of the historic building which was already underway. The press conference was led by Chapman, and included remarks by Board of Supervisors chair Phyllis Randall (D-At Large), vice chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th).
The Loudoun School for the Gifted has been working over the past two years to renovate the historic Ashburn school and turn it into a museum next to where the new school will be built. As news of the vandalism spread, donations toward the renovation have skyrocketed. Deep Sran, founder of the Gifted school and director of the restoration project, believes the building could be fully restored, complete with furnishings resembling those from the 19th century, as early as next year. That’s well ahead of schedule.
After a slow effort to raise $100,000 for the restoration, fundraising for the Ashburn school has topped $65,000 as of this afternoon — nearly $50,000 of it since the vandalism was reported by Sran four days ago.
County officials at Monday’s press conference agreed that the desecration of the historic site has served to bring greater focus to the site itself and its significance in Loudoun’s history. Buona, in whose district the school is located, personally pledged $1,000 toward the renovation.
Phillip Thompson, president of the Loudoun chapter of the NAACP, believes that greater attention ought to be given to identifying and protecting all historic black sites in the county, which he said are being lost to development or neglect. From the moment he heard about it, Thompson was not convinced the vandalism at Ashburn was specifically aimed at African Americans, given the nature of the graffiti. He subsequently reached out to the local Democrat and Republican party chairs asking them to issue a joint statement condemning it, regardless of motivation. Republican Will Estrada and Democrat Marty Martinez issued a statement immediately in a rare act of unity.
Pastor Michelle Thomas of Loudoun’s Holy & Whole Life Changing Ministries, International was among those who expressed concerns that the crime scene may have been contaminated by individuals seeking to see and touch it for themselves before an LCSO evidence team arrived Saturday afternoon.
Chapman said he wants his office to do a better job of assessing criminal activity at and around historic county sites, and wants all such sites included in the data base of information that deputies can access when they arrive on scene. He is also reviewing the protocol for how graffiti and other indicators of hate speech are reported up the chain of command and handled on site.
On Sunday, Oct. 9, from 9 AM to 2 PM, community volunteers and restoration workers are scheduled to gather at the Ashburn site to complete the work of removing and painting over the graffiti, and showcasing community unity.