Maryland School Break-ins


Broken glass, beer cans and other debris inside Maryland School. Photo by Katherine Sleckman.

Michael Bernard, Editor-in-Chief

*Names changed to protect identities.

“We had seen a window, and I had a slingshot with me,” David* said. “I was like, ‘Hey, the window looks weak enough. Might as well try and hit it.’ I wasn’t expecting to get in, but the window shattered.”

David, a CHS student, first entered Maryland School, a property owned by the School District, with three other students in August of 2016 with the help of a rock. However, David was not completely successful in his attempt to break into the school. As he did not break the window completely, David was forced to finish the job with the own hand.

“When I started to pull down on the top shard of glass, the top piece released itself which resulted with me slamming my bare forearm onto the bottom shard. My arm began to bleed profusely so I ran to a friends house to close the wound and stop the bleeding,” David said. “I came back to the window 30 minutes later, kicked out the last shard, and I finally had a hole big enough for me to crawl in through.”

Before the initial break-in, the group would often hang out outside the 1930s brick building.

“We were able to see through the windows that there was stuff in there,” David said. “We were wondering what was inside there.”

Karl*, another CHS student, was one of the first students to enter the vacant school. The three acre lot that is situated on Maryland Avenue is home to a dried-up garden, a dirt soccer field, a crumbling concrete parking lot usually occupied by amateur fireworks shows on weekends and a red brick three-story building; all currently owned by the Clayton School District.

“They had a lot of different TVs and chairs there, and tons of empty rooms. And some air conditioning units,” Karl said. “We went inside and took a TV and DVD player and took it up to a room. We hooked it up.”

The students also brought a foldable table, chairs and a fake plant. Soon enough, Karl and his buddies had transformed Maryland school into their very own hangout spot. Despite the three floors to themselves, the group was put off by dirt-covered floors and furniture. However, the group continued to roam the halls of the timeworn building.

Even though the students were fully aware that they were trespassing, they did not believe an authoritative threat loomed above them.

“At first we were a lot louder. [We were] screaming, yelling, super excited [and] running down the halls,” Karl said.

George*, another CHS student, heard about thrill and decided to join them.

“I [had] nothing better to do,” George said. “I thought it was a bad idea, but I didn’t realize that it could lead to bad consequences.”

The group eventually became aware of the potential consequences that would come from this adventure. To ensure their safety from the Clayton Police Department, the group, which now included members from other schools, put in place a rule in which they had to follow.

“We had a rule that no one went in during the day, only at night,” Trevor*, a CHS student, said.

Unlike some of the other members of the growing group, Trevor was aware from the initial break-in that shattering consequences could arise. If he suspected that the police were near the building, he would immediately leave the premises. However, the precautions set in place were not enough to protect the group.

According to David, a few of these students were forced to spend a day in in-school suspension due to their actions. Unbeknownst to some members of the group, the students were actually trespassing on private property.

“It makes me upset,” David said. “We are getting in trouble for being on private property, but there were no signs anywhere around Maryland.”

Eventually, after going to the hangout spot to unwind after a day of school, multiple students were seen on cameras by the Clayton Police Department.

“We were caught by the police after someone called 911 because they saw us inside the building,” David said.

David and an additional student left their backpacks outside of the school as they entered their secret hideout. The students suspected that their fun was over when police car after police car arrived on the scene.

“After an hour of being stuck in the school, I called a friend who lived nearby to tell me what was happening outside and to get our backpacks back, and he told me that there were 10 cop cars surrounding the building. [He said] that the police had already taken our backpacks and that there was nothing he could do,” David said. “We decided the best thing to do was to wait it out and wait for the police to leave.”

Eventually, the police left the scene, and David was able to escape from the school.

“I was halfway to my apartment building when two squad cars pulled onto the sidewalk I was walking on,” David said. “They got out of their vehicles and asked me what I was doing and where I was coming from, so I told them that I was walking back home from a friend’s house. They didn’t fall for it, so they asked for me and my friend who I was walking with to step into the back of the vehicle.”

Luckily, the officer only took the student back to his apartment to talk to his parents.

David believes that if his backpack was not left outside the building, he would have been able to remain free from trouble. David was relieved when the police informed him that the only punishment they would receive would be from the School District of Clayton.

Maryland School on Maryland Ave. Photo from Globe archives.

According to Officer John Zlatic, the Student Resource Officer (SRO) at Clayton High School, the penalty for trespassing and burglary on private property could be a criminal arrest, a fine, probation, incarceration or restitution. The school district the students attend also has the capability to punish the students as they wish.

“I have no voice to school discipline and the school only has a voice if they are the victim of the crime and desire prosecution,” Zlatic said. However, the school does not have the first say in the altercation.
“Criminal acts such as trespassing [or] theft are handled initially by the police department, in which I would be the police representative for the school district,” Zlatic said. “Criminal acts then proceed through the criminal justice system.”
According to Zlatic, the students offense does not necessarily have to be disclosed on any future school related forums.

“Reporting of the incident on an academic transcript would depend on the level of suspension that the school decided upon,” Zlatic said. “Criminally, if the act was charged as a felony, the student would have to report the incident to their prospective college if so indicated on the college application.”

As stated by the SRO, trespassing on the property is actually very rare as there are many security measures in place. This includes police patrol, video surveillance, fences and physical locks.

Although he only entered a few times, George became worried of repercussions once other students were forced to face their actions.
According to Karl, some of these students were questioned by administrators and Officer Zlatic.

After receiving their initial punishment, the entire group considered the matter to be resolved.

However, recently two students received notices in the mail ordering them to attend a meeting at the St. Louis County Juvenile Detention Center with their parents and a judge to discuss a punishment for their actions.

“When I first heard about the juvy letter, it was when my friend got a text from another friend. These friends were the two that were caught and questioned by the police after being in the school,” Karl said. “To be honest, I was terrified. Only one of them had [gotten] a letter, but we didn’t know who else would receive one.”

A sophomore at Parkway North High School was one of the few members of the group who does not live in Clayton, Missouri. She entered the building only four times, yet she was still aware of the possible consequences. Although she felt immune from the potential sanctions as she did not attend Clayton High School, she eventually became worried about her felonious acts.

“I heard about [students] getting caught by the cops and I started getting scared because they said there were cameras in there,” the student said.

Since this incident, the CHS students have not returned to the abandoned school.

According to Karl, other students from nearby schools have gotten caught by the law enforcement since the initial police intervention.

“I don’t regret my actions at all,” David said. “It’s a great story and people love to hear about it.”