Vandals destroy items intended for homeless students in Marion

Prom dresses, books, toys among items vandalized

OCALA, Fla. – Thousands of dollars worth of items meant for homeless students have been destroyed by vandals who broke into a storage area, according to Marion County Public Schools.

The break-in happened over the holiday break at the former Phoenix Center site at 2091 NE 35 St.

School officials said the vandals destroyed new pajamas, prom dresses, books, toys and children's clothing meant to benefit local homeless students.

"Actually, it just kind of makes you physically ill to think that they just destroyed things that are going to some of our most vulnerable and needy children," said Suzanne McGuire, homeless children liaison for Marion County Public Schools.

A fire extinguisher was also discharged inside the building and a vulgar phrase was spray-painted on a wall.

"If you knew where it was going and who it's directly impacting, I think that just really takes a special kind of terrible person who would do that for our homeless and our needy kids," said McGuire.

McGuire said four teens were caught breaking into a nearby building in late December, but it's not known if they are also responsible for the damage discovered on Thursday.

Workers continue to clean the storage area as the damage is further assessed.

The Homeless Children liaison with Marion County Public Schools works to identify homeless students and provides support in the form of school supplies, clothing, personal hygiene items, emergency food and other individual needs as identified.

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