Fortuna, "The Friendly City" -- that's what the sign says entering this small town, but in recent years many are wondering.
On Sunday, Oct. 28, Norman G. Ambrosini Elementary School was burglarized by three young suspects. "As of now we have nothing more," said Fortuna Police Department Sgt. Scott Hillman. "The school surveillance video does show three youths, but not clearly identifiable. We are still seeking information from the public."
It is reported that entry was forced into a classroom that was doing a rock study and those rocks were then used to destroy three other classroom windows to gain entry.
In all four classrooms the suspects then rummaged through items and stole a laptop from each room. It is estimated the value of the computers stolen is at several thousand dollars, depriving the classrooms of teaching tools.
Due to amount of glass debris scattered across the carpets, desks, and furniture, the classrooms are not habitable at this time and students have been displaced to other areas.
The school has a video surveillance system and has worked with the local law enforcement to identify the suspects. Fingerprints and DNA evidence have been collected from the school and the community has been notified of this crime for help identifying the suspects.
"It is appalling that someone would break into a school and steal equipment that is used to educate our children," Fortuna Police Sgt. Charles Ellebrecht said in a press release. "Schools across the state already have to deal with tight budgets and then when education equipment is stolen, our children are the real victims left to suffer."
As the damage is reviewed by insurance and assessed for a plan to reopen the classrooms it becomes clear how deeply the school will be affected. As there are shards of glass throughout the classrooms there is no guarantee that even professional cleaners will be able to contain all of it. Therefore, the classrooms with carpet will have to be replaced at an even greater expense to the school district.
"We know three young men between the ages of 10 to 12 years old visited the school early in the day on Saturday and then returned on Saturday night Oct. 27 at around 8:25 p.m. and burglarized our school," said Fortuna Elementary School District Superintendent Dr. Patti Hafner.
"We have started the glass clean up ... with New Life Services, but believe the students will be displaced for three weeks," Hafner said Wednesday. "It is clear we have to replace carpet and windows but now it is possible due to glass in the books we will have to replace some textbooks."
The damage to date is estimated to be at over $30,000. "This is very unfortunate that we are spending time, energy, and money on this and not on the kids' academics," Hafner said.
Many Ambrosini students came to school the Monday following the weekend incident and immediately asked if their teacher was OK. They were not concerned for their personal items in their desks, but rather the well-being and safety of their school family.
The school district and Fortuna police are asking that anyone with information contact the department's WeTip Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME. There have been posters with this information distributed all over the community in hopes that someone will come forward with any information they have.
Callers to the WeTip Hotline will remain Anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000 if their information leads to an arrest and conviction.
Photos by Heather Nyberg-Schlotzhauer/Beacon
1. Three suspects used rocks from another classroom to shatter a large window in the newest building of Ambrosini School during a break-in that caused severe carpet, text book, and electronics damage/theft.