School superintendent Michael J. Martirano and Howard County Police Chief Gary Gardner spoke at an afternoon press conference in Ellicott City, surrounded by more than a dozen school, county and community leaders who denounced the incident and called for unity.
Four Glenelg High School students were charged with hate crimes after swastikas and racial epithets, including one that police said targeted the central Howard County school’s African-American principal, were found painted on campus sidewalks, outside walls and the parking lot Thursday morning.
Howard County police said they used video from surveillance cameras to help identify the 18-year-olds, who are facing multiple counts of destruction of property based on bias.
Three of the students, Seth Taylor of Glenwood, Tyler Curtiss of Brookeville and Joshua Shaffer of Mount Airy, were taken into custody at the school, police said. Matthew Lipp of Woodbine was picked up by police at his home.
School officials and police would not say whether they are members of the graduating Class of 2018.
Information about their attorneys was not available and the students could not be reached for comment.
The arrests were announced less than three hours after county, school and community leaders held a news conference to denounce the incident.
“We will not tolerate this in Howard County,” school Superintendent Michael J. Martirano said at the news conference in Ellicott City, surrounded by more than a dozen school, county and community leaders.
“We work hard every day to make sure our children are safe and protected,” Martirano said. “No child, no staff member, within our inclusive community should ever feel any form of threat or harassment or any form of hate.”
The incident is the first hate crime in a Howard County school this year, authorities said. But it’s the second similar incident in two years at Glenelg High School.
On March 24, 2017, eight swastikas and an anti-African American racial slur were found inside a bathroom there, according to Maryland State Police “Hate or Bias” reports. At the time of the report last year, no suspects had been identified.
There were a total of 23 racial harassment incidents reported to Howard County Public School System officials in 2016-2017 school year, up from 10 incidents the previous year, according to the “Bullying, Harassment, or Intimidation” reports sent to the Maryland State Department of Education. School officials found that fewer than 10 of those reported each year were actually motivated by race, according to the reports. The numbers for the most recent school year will not be available until the end of 2018.
Much of the graffiti, which Martirano said was found by building service staff early Thursday morning, was directed at Glenelg principal David Burton.
The principal held an assembly with students Thursday morning about the incident. Burton, who is in his second year as principal of the 1,173-student school, received a standing ovation, Martirano said.
Officials haven’t estimated the cost to clean up and repair the damage. The markings were removed in the morning by maintenace workers, a school spokesman said.
Police said the charges are misdemeanors that carry a penalty of up to three years in prison.
Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman, whose four children attended Glenelg and whose daughter is a teacher at the school, said he was heartbroken by “this display of cruelty and hatred” in his own backyard.
Martirano said he would review the case and hold people accountable, “up to the level of expulsion” for “individuals who are responsible for any act of hate within our school system.”
Martirano sent a note to all school system staff Thursday morning alerting them of the incident, and said he wants to see the incident used as a “teachable moment” with students.
Susan Grossman, a rabbi at Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia who stood with Martirano at the news conference, said it’s the latest example of growing local anti-Semitism. Grossman said she’s heard of increasing anti-Semitic bullying among students in the county and called for a mandatory anti-bias curriculum, including lessons about the Holocaust.
Martirano emphasized the need for parents to monitor their children’s social media use and to be active in discussing diversity issues.
Martirano said the district will provide support for students and staff who were “troubled upon arriving at school this morning.”
“I ask all of Howard County today to join me in an effort to help our community heal,” Martirano said.
The grafitti was scrawled at the high school before a Thursday morning awards ceremony for seniors.
“On what should be a joyous day, when parents and students assemble to celebrate the senior class for its many accomplishments, they were instead confronted with an appalling display of bigotry defacing their school,” Kittleman said in a statement.
The county executive pledged that the county would speak and act against the hate crime “in the strongest terms possible” and use its OneHoward initiative to plan activities to promote respect. He acknowledged that the vandalism was “extremely unsettling” to Howard County residents.
“But we cannot let those who promote hate destroy our important year-end traditions and must remind ourselves that this type of intolerant behavior is the work of a small number of hateful individuals,” he said. “They do not represent our shared beliefs as a community. They do not represent our shared values in Howard County. We will not tolerate it and will stand together in condemning this behavior.”