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Three Ellicott City teens have been charged with breaking into Mount Hebron High School, painting racist symbols inside the building and stealing $5,200 in property. Police are also investigating an unrelated vandalism incident in which racist symbols were painted on a middle school in Laurel.

The 15-year-old males, who all attend the high school, are charged with second- and fourth-degree burglary, two counts of malicious destruction of property, 13 counts of theft, and defacing school property with hate messages.

One of the teens was arrested Friday; the other two were arrested Monday. All were released into the custody of their parents. Howard County police are not naming the teens because they are minors.

Police were led to the students through the school resource officer, according to police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.

"We have a school resource officer assigned to each one of the high schools," Llewellyn said. "One of the benefits is that each officer knows kids in the school. They are able to gather information. That was very valuable in this case. We don't have specific details to what led to the arrest. The school resource officer did play a role."

The incident took place about 4 a.m. Dec. 6 inside a portable classroom at Mount Hebron High, in the 9400 block of Old Frederick Road, according to police, who are investigating whether the racist graffiti was targeted against anyone at the school.

In addition to taking computers and other equipment, the vandals also spray-painted swastikas and the letters "KKK" inside the classroom, according to police. The damage is estimated at $3,000, police said.

Police are also investigating an incident in which racist and obscene graffiti was spray-painted on the outside of Hammond Middle School and a portable classroom. The crime occurred between Friday and Sunday at the school in the 8100 block of Aladdin Drive in Laurel, according to police.

The vandals spray-painted a swastika and a gun firing at the Star of David. In addition, an obscene image and the word "hi" with a smiley face were drawn. The monetary damage is still being determined, according to Llewellyn. Police do not have any suspects in that incident.

Llewellyn does not think that the most recent crime is part of a trend.

"These cases don't appear to be related in any way," Llewellyn said. "It is not uncommon when there are acts of vandalism by young people to include these symbols. Oftentimes, sadly, kids who commit this crime do not understand the severity of including these symbols."

A $300 reward is being offered for information that leads to the identification and arrest of a suspect. Anyone with information is asked to call 410-313-STOP.

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