It wasn’t so much the seven or eight live chickens they turned loose inside the high school.
It was the strewn desks — duct-taped together in some cases — and the 100 or so pounds of scattered chicken-feed corn kernels and cat-food-smelly sardines hidden in the air vents that saw them run afoul of the law.
What began as a senior prank at Hawkinsville High School in the wee hours of April 26 devolved into a cleanup nightmare that has now led to felony criminal trespassing charges against 16 students who, as it stands, are barred from participating in their June 11 graduation.
The students, including at least one honor graduate and a 17th person who had already graduated, snuck into the school about seven hours before classes were to begin, principal Mary Royal said Wednesday. She said one of the students, whose father is a teacher, had a key.
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“We’ve had senior pranks before, and that was mostly rolling the trees out front with toilet paper or writing something on the sidewalk,” Royal said. “This is the first time we’ve had a senior prank where the students entered the building and caused destruction within the building. And that is what makes this so severe, really. We just cannot allow that to happen in the future. ... We have to make sure a message is sent, that this is not acceptable, this is not funny.”
The students responsible were suspended from school for seven days and ordered to pay for the estimated $2,500 cleanup.
The students were arrested late last week. Royal said she sent letters Tuesday to those involved, informing them “they would not be able to walk at graduation.”
Some students plan to appeal the decision, Royal said.
She described the scene on the Monday morning the mischief was discovered as “a mess.” Before she arrived, the lunchroom manager called her and said, “I don’t think you can have school here today.”
School went on, but classes were delayed a couple of hours while janitors and faculty members did their best to tidy up. It was a day or two, however, before they found the source of a rotten stench that enveloped some of the classrooms: sardines stuffed in heating vents and the bottom of a water fountain.
“That was the worst,” the principal said. “It smelled like cat food.”
There also was the matter of corralling the chickens.
“They had their little droppings everywhere,” Royal said. “The saddest part is that the chickens were just scared to death. We boxed them as quickly as we could. Several people have asked me what happened to them. I don’t know. ... But they were treated humanely.”
Chief Deputy Jason Fremont of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office said as far as he knows the pranksters’ original plan was to put a cage of chickens in an empty, kiddie-size plastic swimming pool.
“Everything got turned loose. The corn got spread all over. Then they wound up in the rooms, dragging everything out of the rooms into the hallway,” Fremont said.
“These kids, believe it or not, are quality kids. ... They’re all just super kids. They just got into some mess there, and it just got out of hand. ... It all went to hell in a handbasket when they got in there. Pack mentality, you know. ... Before you know it, they had just trashed the halls and some of the classrooms.”
He added that technically the culprits could have been cited for burglary.
“They could have been charged with a lot more than they were charged with,” Fremont said. “But still it’s a felony, and it’s gonna follow them for the rest of their lives.”
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.