The last day of school on June 11 should have been a joyous one for the students and faculty at West Philadelphia's St. Ignatius School.
But instead, thanks to a heartless bandit who police say broke into the school and stole 30 iPads used primarily by kindergarteners, as well as and four laptop computers, a black cloud loomed over the day.
On Monday, Philadelphia's Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 promised that black cloud won't follow the small elementary school at 43rd and Wallace streets into the next school year. The FOP donated 20 brand-new iPads to the school and pledged to replace the remaining stolen electronics via donations before students return in September. The police union also put up a $5,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the person or people responsible for the burglary.
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"If you come in and tell us who did this today and they're brought in today, you get paid today," FOP President John McNesby said during a news conference with several police officers and supervisors at the school Monday afternoon.
Police said leads on the burglary, which happened overnight June 10 into June 11, have been scant. School officials said faculty members and others were in and out of the school until after 8 p.m. that night because 8th grade graduation had been held at the school's middle-school campus, Our Lady of Sorrows, nearby, and a basketball game was going on at the 43rd Street campus where the burglary happened.
They said there was no sign of forced entry at the school's outside door, but that chains on the first- and second-floor doors inside had been cut. The bandit also broke the lock on a security cabinet in the computer lab where the iPads were stored, cut cables locking them to the cabinet and removed their protective covers. School Co-Principal Rosemary Haenn said the burglar also ransacked several classrooms, broke windows to get into offices and stole laptops.
She and Co-Principal Sister Owen Patricia Bonner said the school, which has about 250 students, only had the iPads for a year and a half.
"We worked so hard to get them," Bonner said. "The kids were so excited to have them."
Haenn added, "You're stealing from 5-year-olds."
Investigators said they believe the items were likely sold on the street or to local pawn shops and are still in the neighborhood somewhere.
"If you bought an iPad on the street for $100 or $200, clearly it's stolen," Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives said. "You should do the right thing and turn it in."
He said if someone who purchased the stolen goods has information on who took them, they would also be eligible for the FOP reward. The stolen items are valued at nearly $18,000.
"Children are the future," Walker said, adding that the iPads were invaluable learning tools for the students, most of whom live in disadvantaged areas of West Philadelphia. "We can't tolerate this."
Haenn and Bonner said there has been an outpouring of support from the community for the school, in addition to the FOP's donation, already. About $15,000 has been donated so far and will go toward tightening security at the school. The building was not equipped with a surveillance camera with recording capabilities at the time of the burglary, she said.
"The outpouring has been amazing," she said.
McNesby said anyone interested in donating should contact FOP Lodge 5 at 215-629-3626 or call him at 215-285-3185.
"We will have this program up and running by September," he promised.
Tipsters with information on the burglary should call Southwest Detectives at 215-686-3183/3184 or the police tip line at 215-686-8477.