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Damage to 18 cars burglarized at St. John's totals at least $53,000, according to police

Stereo equipment was stolen from 18 cars on the St. John's Elementary School campus last week in broad daylight with damage to the vehicles amounting to at least $53,000, according to the Mehlville Senior High School's school resource officer, Officer Charlie Rodriguez.

Stereos, amplifiers, speakers and small amounts of cash were taken sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. March 23, Rodriguez told the Call, in cars that were parked in a parking lot at the corner of Will Avenue and Lemay Ferry Road. The lot primarily is used by Mehlville Senior High students who park their vehicles there "at their own risk."

Rodriguez and other St. Louis County Police Department officers, he said, suspect that more than one individual participated in the theft because of the amount of cars that were damaged in a relatively short amount of time.

Because no classes take place in the St. John's building, he said, students are warned that its parking lot is patrolled, but not as much as other campus properties, and they may park there, but at their own risk.

"Mehlville does not encourage students to park there," he said.

Rodriguez, who patrolled the parking lot that morning, discovered the damaged vehicles at 9 a.m.

The magnitude of the crime made it different from others he has investigated, he said.

"I have never handled such a large amount of vehicles in such a small parking lot in one particular incident," he said. "I believe these individuals had been planning this for some time, surveying the environment ... I would think that they are probably students or former students because not every vehicle was broken into. Obviously they knew which car to break into and they knew which cars had alarm systems."

No cars were stolen, but the 18 vehicles did experience a great deal of damage, he said. Key holes were punched out with screwdriver-like objects, while cars' hoods also were pried open and wires were cut to disengage their alarm systems. Other cars were scraped and scratched with metal keys.

Stereo equipment damages total at least $6,500, according to Rodriguez's estimates.

"The (damaged) cars were spread out," he said. "They were not targeting 18 vehicles in a specific area. They obviously were rather bold to do that at such an early hour of the day. They knew which vehicles to target."

Officers have no suspects or credible leads, but they did arrest a student Friday for an on-campus crime committed earlier this school year based on a tip someone called in in response to Tuesday's events, Rodriguez told the Call.

"We're extremely disappointed in that," Mehlville Superintendent Tim Ricker told the Call. "It was a rampage as far as we're concerned ... I don't understand that kind of senseless violence. I don't understand it. The kids, I'm sure all of them have insurance, but some of them probably don't have insurance that will cover that kind of damage, they just have liability."

Ricker said he realized signs are present in the St. John's lot warning students they are parking at their own risk, but "as a community" the incident was unfortunate.

He added, "You'd think anybody would see somebody smashing and grabbing and doing that kind of stuff."

Anyone who has any information about the incident can call Rodriguez at 467-6021 or the 4th Precinct at 615-0162.

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