A 2 1/2 -year-old boy was severely burned yesterday afternoon at the playground of a Middle River elementary school after going down a slide doused in sulfuric acid and landing in a pool of the corrosive liquid.
Authorities said they believe vandals stole the industrial-strength drain cleaner from a storage closet at Victory Villa Elementary School and poured it over pieces of playground equipment.
The boy, who lives less than a quarter-mile from the school, was in fair condition last night at Johns Hopkins Hospital's pediatric burn unit. He was being treated for third-degree chemical burns - the acid having penetrated three layers of skin.
"We found this liquid on everything - the jungle gym, the monkey bars - everything," said Baltimore County Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Vickie Warehime. "Having one child hurt is one too many, but it's amazing - and we're so thankful - that more children weren't hurt."
Yesterday's incident came just two days after a similar one in Texas. A 2-year-old girl there suffered minor burns on her left forearm and buttocks after she got on a playground slide. Investigators in the Austin suburb of Leander said they believe someone sprayed the slide, benches and the grass at a community park with hydrochloric acid stolen from a community pool, according to media reports. The girl was back home by Friday.
The Middle River boy was identified as Peyton Duschl. He was scheduled for surgery this morning and likely will be hospitalized for several weeks, said his mother, Carol Duschl.
"I just don't understand what would draw somebody to do something like that," Duschl told WMAR-TV. "What kind of sick joke is that?" Duschl said the boy's grandmother was with him at the playground.
The child began screaming in pain as soon as he went down his favorite slide about 12:30 p.m. yesterday outside the school, Warehime said.
"They tried to wash him off at home but realized that it wasn't working," she said.
Baltimore County police investigators arrived at the school about 1 p.m. yesterday. They said they found the blue metal door of a storage room, accessible from outside the school, kicked open.
Police and fire officials said they believe from two to six bottles of an industrial-strength drain cleaner were used to soak the playground equipment.
Schools and businesses often use a highly corrosive form of drain cleaner that contains a high concentration of sulfuric acid - unlike the makeup of household drain cleaners - to effectively dissolve paper, rags, sanitary napkins and similar blockages.
The boy's parents rushed the child about 1 p.m. to Franklin Square Hospital's emergency room.
Fearing contamination, hospital officials scrambled to move 20 patients in the waiting room to another wing of the hospital and closed the emergency room for about 1 1/2 hours, spokeswoman Trina Adams said.
"The parents had two bottles of the liquid with them, that they'd found on the scene," Adams said. "So, as a precaution, we wanted to move people."
The severity of his burns prompted doctors at Franklin Square to transfer the boy to the Johns Hopkins pediatric burn unit about 2 p.m., Adams said.
Warehime said police had no suspects but urged people to report any cases of individuals with suspicious chemical burns on their hands.
She said the perpetrators would face first-degree assault charges for injuries to the boy, and burglary and vandalism charges for breaking into the school.
While the boy was being treated, about 25 firefighters from eight engine companies as well as the Maryland Department of the Environment's spill response team descended on Franklin Square Hospital and on the playground behind the one-story brick school building.
At the school, Baltimore County Fire Department crews spent about four hours washing away the liquid with thousands of gallons of water.
They declared the playground safe for use just before 6 p.m.
"The chemical is water-soluble, and we used thousands of gallons of water on it, so we're confident the playground's safe," said Division Chief Michael W. Robinson, a spokesman for the Fire Department. "Plus, we're expecting about 3 inches of rain overnight, so I would say it's not going to be an issue."
County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said the school would reopen as scheduled tomorrow. He said school officials are awaiting the findings of the police investigation before commenting.
The Associated Press and Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.