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$1 Million Damage by Vandals at Hoover High : Arson: Three classrooms were torched, destroying valuable science equipment. Satanic marking was left behind.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Vandals broke into Hoover High School, started a fire that caused an estimated $1 million in damage and wrote the satanic symbol “666" on a chalk board, officials said Wednesday.

The fire follows three incidents in October in which vandals broke into classrooms--once at Hoover and twice at Glendale High School--and either stole or attempted to steal computer parts, then scribbled pentagrams or other satanic-style symbols on the walls or chalk boards.

Two classrooms on the third floor of Hoover’s science building were gutted and a third was badly damaged by the blaze, which was reported at about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. No arrests have been made, but police believe the fire may be connected to a string of recent burglaries at local high schools in which satanic markings were left behind.

“I’ve been teaching in this room for more than 10 years. It’s like my home, but when I got here this morning, it looked like the inside of a barbecue after you’ve cooked a few steaks,” said physics teacher Dennis Henderson. “It was a total loss.”

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Fire officials said the door to Henderson’s classroom, where the fire is believed to have broken out, had been pried open. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

“Right now we don’t know if students were involved or if it was somebody else,” said police spokesman Chahe Keuroghelian. “But we don’t necessarily think they were hard-core satanists. Judging from the writing it doesn’t appear they know exactly what ‘666' stands for. They may have just been trying to confuse us in our investigation.”

Seven fire companies put the blaze out in about one hour, but not before the flames destroyed valuable lab equipment, books, and several computers used by the school’s advanced physics students, who were based in the classrooms suffering the most damage. The students will be temporarily relocated to vacant classrooms elsewhere on campus and at the adjacent Toll Middle School. The district’s two other high schools will loan lab equipment.

“Obviously we may have to shift from an emphasis on experiments to textbook learning, but we’re hoping not to lose any time from an academic standpoint,” said Henderson, whose class was relocated Wednesday to a storage area on campus.

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Nerses Abramyan, another physics teacher, was less optimistic.

“This year I have extremely intelligent students, and I was using a college physics textbook and prepping them for advanced placement tests. Now I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that, because the damage is so great and I lost so much lab equipment and material.”

In addition to three torched classrooms, nine adjoining rooms suffered smoke and water damage, and eight more were closed because of smoke odor. The cleanup is expected to take the rest of the week, and once completed, all but seven rooms are expected to be back in service, said Principal Theresa Saunders.

The cost of rebuilding and repairing the classrooms, less a $25,000 deductible, is covered by a district insurance policy, officials said. Officials said it is unlikely all the damage will be fixed before next fall.

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