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Trees ripped out, benches smashed in vandalism at Greenfield Elementary

November 12, 2018

Pittsburgh school and city police are investigating vandalism at Greenfield Elementary School, where trees just planted by students were ripped out of the ground and benches were destroyed overnight.

At least one person jumped a fence at the school and ripped 40 trees out of the ground that had been planted by students at the school last week, said Joe Stavish, the Community Education Coordinator with Tree Pittsburgh, which helped students plant the trees. The vandal also removed metal cages and wooden stakes placed around the trees, and smashed six wooden benches.

Stavish said the damage happened about 11 p.m. Tree Pittsburgh has dealt with acts of vandalism before but never anything this extreme, Stavish said.

“This is a lot of work for that person to physically rip these tree stakes out of the ground, knock all these metal cages over, pull all the trees out,” Stavish said. “Someone was dedicated to destroying all those trees and the benches. They broke all the benches apart, too.”

All the trees were replanted. The same students who originally planted them worked to save them, said Pat Gallagher, a staff member at the school. Tree Pittsburgh, the district’s landscaping crew, and staff members helped.

“Kids were upset,” Gallagher said, calling the vandalism terrible. “We’ve been working on this project since last May.”

The trees were planted as part of the “One Tree Per Child Pittsburgh” program, which aims to give every student the opportunity to plant at least one tree while they’re in school, Stavish said.

Stavish said the school called him early Wednesday, but the trees were already back in the ground by the time he and others from Tree Pittsburgh showed up.

“Fortunately because they were just planted we could put most of them back in the ground and re-cage them and re-stake them,” Stavish said. “The school was really helpful.”

Pittsburgh public safety spokeswoman Alicia George said authorities were notified of the incident through the Telephone Report Unit (TRU), which is a phone system manned by civilians. She said the report was passed along to the Pittsburgh Public Schools police, and later Zone 4 officers.

George said Pittsburgh Public Schools police are handling the investigation with assistance from city police.

In a letter to school families, Greenfield Principal Eric Rosenthal said video footage appears to show the vandalism was done by an unidentified young man, and charges will be filed once the suspect is identified. A $100 reward is being offered to anyone who has information on the suspect.

Gallagher said the school and Greenfield School PTO raised money for the benches, which were completely destroyed and had to be thrown out.

“If we lose the trees it’s over $1,000, and the benches are probably over $600 in value,” Gallagher said. “Now we have to figure out how to replace those benches.”

Peoples Gas paid for the trees.

Isabela-Cajiao Angelelli is the co-founder and director “One Tree Per Child Pittsburgh.”

She was shocked and sad when she heard about the vandalism, but said she was happy to see the replanted trees and how resilient the school was.

“It’s all about the kids,” she said.

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