Five teenagers were served with juvenile petitions this week in connection with the vandalism of the historic Ashburn Colored School earlier this month, the sheriff's office announced today.
The teenagers, three 16-year-olds from Sterling, a 17-year-old from Sterling and a 16-year-old from Ashburn, were all charged with felony destruction of property and misdemeanor entering the property of another for the purpose of damaging it. The names of the teenagers cannot be released due to the fact they are juveniles.
The vandalism was discovered Oct. 1. Offensive and vulgar graffiti, including swastikas and other racist messages, were spray-painted on three of the building's four sides.
The school, a one-room building, is currently under restoration and has been located in the area for nearly two centuries. The school was built in the 19th century to educate African American children in Northern Virginia.
A review of the investigation with the Office of the Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney determined the case did not meet the legal requirements for a hate crime.
In order for an incident to be labeled a hate crime, a person has to intentionally target an individual and assault them because of their race, religion or sexual orientation, according to Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Plowman.
In addition, a hate crime label applies only when someone defaces a certain property with the intent to intimidate its owner. Since The Ashburn Colored School isn't occupied, the intent isn't there, Plowman said.
The county's top prosecutor also said that although swastikas and the words "White Power" were spray-painted on the property, there were other tags as well that included "brown power," "I'm with stupid," "I'm awesome" and drawings of genitalia, that led investigators to believe the incident's purpose was not to specifically target any one group or person.
A motive for the incident has not yet been made public.
Virginia code, Plowman said, calls for a hate crime when symbols like a swastika are placed on certain properties, such as places of worship, schools or community centers. However, he said, there must be proof that the vandalism was done to intimidate a community or the building's owner.
"It's hard to say " that this was done with the intention to intimidate ..." Plowman said.
The lack of a hate crime label for the incident has left some upset about the Loudoun Commonwealth's Attorney's Office's decision, including county Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R- Algonkian).
Volpe, at a board meeting Thursday night, questioned Loudoun Lt. Col. Robert Buckman about the charges.
"Folks want to know why they weren't charged with a hate crime, and " I'm going to go ahead and ask the delicate question, can you tell us anything about the ethnicity or the background of these five teenagers?" Volpe asked.
Buckman said any identifying information about juveniles cannot be released, a practice accepted at many law enforcement agencies unless prosecutors decide to charge them as adults.
Volpe continued to press Buckman on the teens' races.
"I understand you can't disclose their name, their address, their age, those type of things. But I think something along the lines of, were they all caucasian? Or were there minorities involved? I think that might help the situation because I believe that's probably the difference and it would probably calm some of the people out there who feel that what these teenagers did deserve more significant charges," she said.
The race of the perpetrator is not taken into account when prosecutors decide whether or not to level hate crime charges.
According to Virginia Code, hate crime means:
"A criminal act committed against a person or his property with the specific intent of instilling fear or intimidation in the individual against whom the act is perpetrated because of race, religion or ethnic origin or that is committed for the purpose of restraining that person from exercising his rights under the Constitution or laws of this Commonwealth or of the United States; any illegal act directed against any persons or their property because of those persons' race, religion or national origin; and all other incidents, as determined by law-enforcement authorities, intended to intimidate or harass any individual or group because of race, religion or national origin."
Following the vandalism, Loudoun residents came out in full force to help restore the school. The Loudoun School for the Gifted were already in the process of a fundraising campaign to renovate the building when the vandalism occurred.
In the days following, several Loudoun politicians donated $1,000 each to the cause and the Redskins Charitable Foundation chipped in $35,000. The goal was to reach $100,000 for the full renovation. Following the vandalism, funds toward the school's restoration reached more than its goal as $71,000 was collected on a GoFundMe account.
-- Staff Writer Syndey Kashiwagi contributed to this report.