Alaskan high school suffers $100K burglary

A group of burglars on an organized mission at the Delta Junction high school this weekend made off with up to $100,000 in computers, monitors and the surveillance camera that likely caught their crime on tape, according to Alaska State Troopers.

The break-in probably took place during the early morning hours on Sunday, when the group broke out the glass on the school's doors and opened them from the inside to steal 52 laptop computers and other high-dollar equipment, said Sgt. Tim Tuckwood, supervisor of the Delta Junction troopers post.

It was unclear whether the thieves were local. Delta Junction, with a population of roughly 975 people, would be a difficult place to unload such a large haul, Tuckwood said. But it appeared that at least one of the burglars knew the layout of the school, he said.

"I think it's probably someone that's been there before," Tuckwood said. "They knew where the high-dollar equipment was located. They knew where the surveillance equipment was located."

The thieves entered specific offices, classrooms and the computer lab by smashing the windows on each door to turn the door knobs inside, he said. Areas without valuable equipment were untouched, he said. And typical high-school vandalism -- sprayed fire extinguishers and other petty acts of destruction -- was missing in this case, he said.

The thieves made off with the 52 laptops as well as some desktop computers, big-screen computer monitors and the one security camera that would have caught their actions on tape, Tuckwood said.

"I think certainly one or more had some computer knowledge," he said. "They were looking for things that were a little more specific."

For example, some radios, older computers and video cameras went untouched, he said. Only the most valuable gear was taken.

School officials also suspected the burglars knew what they were after.

While classes ended in May, staff members and janitors remained working in the building until just last week, said P.J. Ford Slack, superintendent of the Delta/Greely School District.

"I have never seen anything like this at our school," Slack said. "This was the first weekend of us taking a break. Someone knew enough to wait to get in."

The burglars would likely also have known that the school has no alarm system or security guard, something that will hopefully change in the near future, she said.

The school, in the small community about 95 miles southeast of Fairbanks, has 236 students and will be hard-pressed to replace the equipment, which was used for many of the school's programs, by the time school starts Aug. 18, Slack said. The school's insurance policy has a $10,000 deductible, a "big hit for a little district like us," she said. It will likely cover the broken windows and damaged doors, but Slack was unsure Monday whether it would cover the computers.

The estimated value of the stolen items was between $80,000 and $100,000. Tuckwood estimated damage from the break-in at an additional $5,000 and $10,000.

He wouldn't discuss what steps were being taken to identify the perpetrators, saying the investigation is ongoing. If caught, the thieves will be facing felony charges of theft, burglary, and criminal mischief, he said.

"Delta is a pretty safe community for the most part, so it's a really big shock," Slack said. "It isn't that we won't overcome it, but you get all jazzed for school to start and this puts a bit of a damper on it."

Anyone with information about the break-in is asked to call Alaska State Troopers at 907-895-4800.

Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.

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