Thieves fail to get away with school's electronics

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A pair of would-be thieves broke into a Polk County elementary school. They had their sights set on thousands of dollars' worth of electronics used by children.

Deputies caught the suspects in the act. But not before they left behind a costly path of destruction worth $10,000.

"That is pretty brazen. That's what that is," said Jesse Keen Elementary School Principal Joe Griffin.

The pair of burglars may have thought stealing electronics from children would be easy as taking candy from a baby. They were wrong.

Last Wednesday around 1:30 a.m., Polk deputies got a call about a break-in a Keen Elementary in Lakeland. On scene, they heard doors opening and closing, and saw flashlights in the computer lab.

"We discovered that two suspects had broken into the property, the alarm had sounded, they left and yet they came back again and we discovered them inside the property," said Polk County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Donna Wood.

That's right. They left and came back.

"We found a lot of damage and we found two individuals in a lot of trouble," Wood said.

They made a run for it, but deputies caught 21-year-old Noel Lash and his juvenile accomplice. Deputies say Lash admitted that the Nikon digital camera around his neck and digital recorder in his pocket were not his.
The two suspects didn't get away with anything, but they sure left a mess -- an expensive one.

"They broke the glass with a brick, came in, opened the door," Griffin said as we walked through one damaged classroom.

Investigators say they'd crammed laptops into a garbage bag. They ripped projectors from the ceilings. In all, Griffin said they tried to get away with six laptops and seven projectors. And they weren't careful about it.

"Whoever came in, came down in that ceiling grid there," Griffin showed us. "All of this was actually down, so however they got up there, I don't know. What you can see are the sneaker marks there."

There's a lot to repair. But Griffin is just thankful nothing was taken away from the kids.

"Our kids don't know about it," Griffin continued. "That's the sad part about this, that people would be willing to go into a school and steal equipment that is used for kids, so our kids could benefit society as a whole."

If criminals are evaluated on their classroom performance, there's a good chance these guys got a failing grade.
The Polk Sheriff's Office hasn't said what the minor suspect is charged with.  As for Lash, he faces a bunch of charges, including grand theft, burglary, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.