A rivalry prank gone too far is how Orem police are characterizing a vandalism spree that resulted in 10 trees being destroyed at Mountain View High School last February.
Six suspects, including four men and two juveniles who attended Orem High, have been arrested in connection with the incident that caused $20,000 in damage, said Orem police Lt. Bob Conner.
Ten 10-year-old trees that stood about 10 feet high in front of the school were chopped down with axes and saws on Feb. 12 - the eve of a much-anticipated basketball contest between Orem and Mountain View. The suspects dragged the trunks and branches across the parking lot and in front of the entrance of the school, Conner said.
One month later, one of the suspects admitted involvement, and over the course of the past six months, five more have stepped forward, Conner said. Cory Johnston, 18, Shawn Hansen, 18, Matt Harding, 18, Dan Lewis, 18, and two 17-year-old juveniles, all of Orem, have been charged with felony criminal mischief in connection with the incident, but none were incarcerated, Conner said.
Mountain View principal Bill Delaney says five of the six suspects have made contact with him to apologize.
"I feel they are truly sorry for what they have done," he said.
Delaney added he is relieved the suspects have been apprehended. "There's a difference between putting chalk on the sidewalk and doing damage to living trees," he said. "It's so uncharacteristic of what most people consider competitive school spirit. They went overboard in support of their school. I don't think they realized what they did.
"Those trees can never be replaced," Delaney continued. "They did damage to the entire community. They were beautiful trees."
Insurance would not cover the damage, the principal said. Some funds have been raised in order to replace the trees, which were of the flowering cherry variety. The tree stumps have been removed, but the area that once featured an arboreal landscape is now barren as holes where the trees used to be have been filled with dirt.
Virginia Johnson, who was the principal at the school at the time the trees were planted about eight years ago, said she had worked with the head groundskeeper at Brigham Young University to design the Mountain View High landscape. The school purchased the trees from a nursery in Ogden.
Johnson added that receiving news of the vandalism "made me sick to my stomach. The trees were growing nicely. I wasn't angry, just sad."
The day of that Orem-Mountain View game, Delaney said he made a schoolwide announcement, warning students not to retaliate. A group of Mountain View students were plotting to destroy trees at Orem High, but that plan was foiled by school administrators.