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Police investigating troubling graffiti at Wellesley PS

Staff quickly covered up graffiti at Wellesley PS. [Sarah Demerling]

Police continue to investigate the spray-painting last week of threatening graffiti on a portable at Wellesley Public School.

A swastika, profanity and racial slurs accompanied the threat spray painted on multiple areas of the school including windows, doors, bricks, and both playgrounds. Waterloo Regional Police were contacted immediately following the discovery on February 4, and school staff began the process of covering up the content with garbage bags and more spray paint.

“Staff arrived at school and found graffiti that was written on the exterior walls of the school, much of which was described as ‘hate-based’ language, and then there was a mention of a threat against the school at a future date,” said Alana Russell, spokesperson for the Waterloo Region District School Board.

While the graffiti is being investigated as a “hate-motivated crime,” police determined that there was no imminent danger and continued to operate the school business as usual. All of the graffiti was removed by the end of the day, but a local parent, Sarah Demerling, said she did not find out about the threats until two days later.

“[Myself] and several other parents were upset that the school failed to mention a shooting threat until two days later,” said Demerling. “We should have been informed so we could have made the choice to send our children or not. Even if the police cleared it and deemed it safe, we as parents should have been given the choice.”

A letter from the WRPS was sent out to parents on February 4 outlining that vandalism had occurred on school property and another was delivered on Tuesday, but did not mention the threatening remarks in the graffiti. Russell acknowledged that these threats should have been emphasized earlier.

“We appreciate that there is anxiety around that and that there was a threat included within the graffiti – and we should have emphasized that in our initial communication – but we’ve taken steps since then to communicate with parents and give them more information around the content of the message.”

Police believe that the incident took place sometime over the weekend, sometime between February 2 and 3 after dark. Both the WRPS and school board say there are taking the threats seriously and are taking action in light of the threats.

“There will be an increased police presence at the school,” said WRPS Cst. André Johnson. “There is also a rural community resource officer who has been engaged with the school as well, and we’ll continue to follow up with school officials and continue to appeal for anybody with information to come forward.

“We’re encouraging parents and caregivers to use this as an opportunity to talk to their children about the dangers of writing such intimidating, hurtful and threatening messages.”

For context, police noted there were 42 instances of hate-related graffiti in Waterloo Region in 2018. It is not unheard of, with Russell citing several consecutive instances that occurred in the spring of last year.

Huron Heights Secondary School, Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute and Glenview Park Secondary School are all examples of schools affected by similar incidents.

“We’re careful to balance the seriousness of these types of things, along with putting attention onto something that somebody might be seeking the attention for, as was the case we found last spring,” said Russell. “Regardless, we have to take these situations really seriously, and we do.”

Spray painting has also occurred in Wellesley before, with several incidents taking place over the summertime. In previous incidents, there was no threatening or hateful message attached. The identity of the culprit(s) was not determined.

“The other incidents were at the park by the pond back. The wall by the bridge and the play equipment – it was mostly Nirvana lyrics though,” said Demerling, referring to the band.

Anyone with information about this incident is encouraged to contact police at 519-570-9777 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477

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