Cops: Vandals bragged on MySpace

May 26, 2006

"Sleepy" was spraypainted last month onto the walls of a Roman Catholic church being converted into a community center on the Northwest Side -- along with another nickname and Latin Jokers gang graffiti -- by vandals who trashed the place, authorities say.

Brenda Swartz, executive director of the Concordia Avondale Campus at 3300 N. Whipple, was incensed that anyone would desecrate the building. The damage was later estimated at more than $30,000, she said. When she went looking for answers, she went to the Internet.

"Sleepy" was listed on MySpace.com, a blog site. The nickname belonged to a teenager whose photo, address and real name was on the site. Swartz passed the information on to Chicago Police, who interviewed the teenager.

Report says 2 boasted online

He led police to another suspect, Andrew Marquez, 17, of the 3300 block of North Troy, who was charged with felony burglary in connection with the April 23 vandalism, officials said. Four juveniles also face charges, according to police.

"Two offenders boasted about doing the crime on MySpace.com," according to a police report.

Swartz said she decided to look on MySpace.com because she knows teenagers frequently use the site.

MySpace provides users with a free home page containing a personal photo and self-composed profile, as well as a message board to share information with pals. It has become the equivalent of the local mall as a meeting place for youngsters.

And, like other spots on the Internet, it's increasingly being used by gang members to communicate, police say.

On Thursday, Swartz said she and about 20 other people, including an aide to Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), appeared at Marquez's court hearing at Grand and Central to send a message that the Avondale community is taking a stand against criminals.

"We're not the Lone Ranger riding in on a white horse," said the Rev. Nicholas Zook, pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church, which is building the community center on Whipple. "We want this neighborhood to be safe and nurturing for our families. We never thought our first community activity would be to try to end the gangbanger activity around here."

The vandals had broken into the building through a hatch in the roof, police said.

Poured cement into plumbing

There was no security system at the time because the building was under construction and electrical wiring was not yet installed, Swartz said.

They splashed 5-gallon buckets of paint on flooring and the walls. They poured contact cement down the toilets and sinks. They sprayed fire extinguishers in the hallways. And they tagged the walls with graffiti of pitchforks, the face of a joker, a half star and an upside-down crown, police said.

The damage occurred over a weekend and was discovered the following Monday, April 25.

"It certainly pushed our construction schedule back," said Swartz. The center is scheduled to open on Sept. 5.

Offering teens 'a positive way'

The irony of the vandalism was that the community center will reach out to people like the youngsters accused of the crime, Swartz said.

The first floor will offer day care for infants, the second floor will contain a preschool and the third floor will be used by programs for teens, adults and seniors. The center is establishing relationships with schools in the neighborhood, Swartz said.

"We want to give teens the opportunity to get involved in the community in a positive way," she said.