UPDATED STORY: Arrest made in Hamilton Elementary School vandalism case

Graffiti sprayed at Hamilton Elementary School in Anza consists of racist symbols and words and what many perceive as a death threat towards three students. Anza Valley Outlook/Courtesy photo

Grafitti vandalism discovered at Hamilton Elementary School in Anza last week has led to a criminal investigation by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

Vandalism at Hamilton Elementary School leads to criminal investigation -CPhotos-1

The vandalism consisted of racist symbols and words, with what many perceive as a hate crime with a death threat towards three students.

On April 10, in a statement to Valley News from Sergeant Wenndy Brito-Gonzalez with the RCSO Media Information Bureau, deputies from the Hemet Sheriff’s Station received a report of past graffiti vandalism in the 57400 block of Mitchell Road in Anza Monday. April 10.

“It was reported the incident occurred on Thursday, April 6,” said Brito-Gonzalez. “By the time the report was made, the graffiti had been cleaned up, however, photographs were taken and turned over to deputies. Investigators are taking over the investigation and no additional details are available at the moment.”

However, in an April 12th press release from the Riverside County Sheriff, the information differed, stating:

“On Wednesday, April 5, 2023, at about 7:21 AM, deputies from the Hemet Sheriff’s Station were dispatched to an elementary school in the 57500 block of Mitchell Road in Anza, regarding racist graffiti found written on the school and on the roadway nearby. Deputies obtained photographs depicting the graffiti from school administrators, who discovered the writings when they arrived at work. School was out of session for spring break and and there were 5-10 students on campus for an extended learning opportunity.”

Deputies and investigators began an investigation with the full cooperation of school administrators. Investigators obtained surveillance video of three suspects committing the graffiti on April 4, 2023, about 10:25 pm. After picture and video evidence was collected, cleanup efforts were promptly initiated due to the graphic nature of the graffiti that was visible to the public. Based on investigative leads, investigators were able to identify one of the suspects responsible for the graffiti and additional evidence linking the suspect to the crime. An arrest warrant was sought and granted by a judge and a search for the suspect was conducted.”

Parents took to social media to ask why they had not been notified of the perceived hate speech sprayed on walls and the driveways of the elementary school.

Vandalism at Hamilton Elementary School leads to criminal investigation Anza Valley Outlook/Courtesy photo

“I was told that the school wasn’t sure if they were going to notify the parents because they didn’t want to scare us,” said Jamie Thein, mother of three students enrolled in Hamilton schools. “It’s incidents like this that make me lose trust in our school.”

Jeremy Parsons, Governing Board  member with the Hemet Unified School District representing Trustee Area 7, told the Anza Valley Outlook, “There is a criminal and a school investigation in progress regarding the tagging over spring break.”

It was late afternoon on Monday when the school’s principal Alyssa King sent out a statement to parents regarding the incident.

Vandalism at Hamilton Elementary School leads to criminal investigation Anza Valley Outlook/Courtesy photo

“Over break we had some graffiti happen on campus. It was handled swiftly and continues to be investigated. We have KTLA 5 news here today. If you are approached please direct all media questions to Sonia Ramirez at the district office,” she wrote.

Almost simultaneously, the HUSD emailed additional information.

“We regret to inform you that Hamilton School experienced an act of vandalism on April 4 over Spring break. The vandalism resulted in damages to some of the school’s property and involved disturbing language. The school was made aware of the incident on April 5 and law enforcement was contacted the same day,” the email stated.

It has caused confusion with the original Sheriff’s Department report that the incident occurred on April 6 and was reported to them on April 10 and then the updated press release on April 12th. Such discrepancies have caused parents even more concern.

According to the April 12th RCSO press release, “On April 10, 2023, the 17-year-old male suspect was located and arrested in Ventura, California, for a hate crime, criminal threats of violence, and vandalism. The suspect was transported to Riverside County Juvenile Hall and is being held on $100,000 bail. The two additional suspects involved are still being identified and charges will be sought against them.”

With the original information given, Jason Imbimbo was expressing concern.

Vandalism at Hamilton Elementary School leads to criminal investigation Anza Valley Outlook/Courtesy photo

“We got text messages from parents Friday with the pics of the graffiti,” said Jason Imbimbo. He continued, “The Sheriff’s department was not called until today [Monday]. All of the graffiti was cleaned up last week before reporting the hate crime and school shooting threat. …all the evidence [was] destroyed before reporting the crime in what I think was the intent to sweep this under the rug. The Sheriff was contacted only after parents started asking questions this morning. There were three students named in the graffiti. The school never contacted staff or parents to inform them of this incident, and there was no police presence at either the high school or elementary school. A parent asked the Hamilton Elementary principal this morning what was being done. She said there was no threat. TV station reporters were in front of Hamilton Elementary interviewing parents this afternoon.”

Vandalism at Hamilton Elementary School leads to criminal investigation Anza Valley Outlook/Courtesy photo

The District assured families that all was well.

“There is currently an active investigation underway by the Riverside Sheriff’s Department. We take all matters such as these very seriously and want to assure you that we are dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of our students and staff,” the district email said. “We ask for your cooperation and support during this time. If you have any information regarding the incident, please do not hesitate to contact the Riverside Sheriff’s Department.”

Parents are not satisfied and continue to ask questions. They are not convinced that the shocking racist words, swastikas and death threat graffiti are being handled appropriately by the HUSD or the school.

“I find it disturbing that parents and staff weren’t informed and there is no police presence. Especially since three students were specifically named in graffiti that said “ya’ll finna die’,” said Imbimbo.

The goal of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department is to keep all citizens safe while also improving the quality of life for those residing within the community. Criminal activity negatively impacts the community. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has a zero-tolerance policy for these offenses.

In the RCSO April 12th press release, it stated, “The Riverside County Sheriff’s Office takes hate crimes very seriously. Crimes motivated by bias against race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability will not be tolerated. We will vigorously investigate and bring any individuals or groups responsible for hate crimes to justice. If you are a victim of a hate crime, call or go to your nearest police or sheriff’s station to report the crime.

If you have information regarding this crime, please contact the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department at (951)791-3400 or Non-Emergency Dispatch at (951)776-1099.

Criminal activity can also be reported through the We-Tip Crime Reporting Hotline, (909)987-5005 or https://wetip.com .

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.