Fires set, police station shot with paintballs during Halloween vandalism in Rindge

  • Over the weekend, vandals toilet papered the town common, used paintballs to strike the police station and a cruiser, and lit several road fires in Rindge. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/13/2020 12:59:22 PM

A yearly “tradition” of Halloween vandalism in Rindge continued over the weekend, with paintballs shot at the police station and a cruiser, multiple small road fires and trees and power lines covered with toilet paper. 

Sgt. Rachel Malynowski of the Rindge Police Department said reports of criminal mischief and littering started Friday night, and continued throughout the weekend into Sunday morning.

“We were being proactive, with additional staffing,” Malynowski said Tuesday. “We typically get a lot of issues at this time of year.”

Police were patrolling in the area of the Rindge common on Friday, a hotspot for Halloween mischief, where throwing rolls of toilet paper over the common trees and other vandalism has become annual practice.

“We began to notice the same vehicles traveling back and forth,” Malynowski said. “When we started to pay more attention to the center, we started to get reports of toilet papering on power lines in the Route 119 area, extending from the post office all the way to the Route 202 intersection.”

Police also started to get reports of fires in the roadway. Some of those calls, she said, led police to wads of toilet paper which had been set alight with an accelerant. Other reports, police found nothing, and Malynowski said they may have been diversionary calls used to distract police from the town center or other areas where actual criminal mischief was happening.

Most of the reported fires found by police were burning toilet paper, but police did also get a report of at least one tire set on fire at the intersection of Hampshire Road and Beaver Dam Road, which was found smouldering in the early morning hours, and appeared to have been burning for several hours.

Fire Chief Rickard Donovan said the fire department received about a dozen reports over the weekend of fires, some of which were diversionary or prank calls. The department has also responded to several other tire fires this month, he said. He called the fire setting “pretty disturbing” and “reckless” considering the current drought conditions and current state-wide moratorium on ground burning.

Donovan said the department is already to the point it is assessing its dry hydrants, and some of their water access points are low enough that they cannot draw water, he said.

“We’re in a drought,” he said. “This is not the time.”

Donovan said because the long-standing drought conditions have left forest tinder dry and flammable, stray sparks or burning material could create a much bigger fire than intended.

“It is a problem. Especially the toilet paper, if it floats off into our wildlands, we could have a situation like we’re having out West right now,” Donovan said, referring to California wildfires which have been burning out of control. “And we don’t have hundreds of acres of wildland, it jeopardizes houses and dwellings. It’s really reckless and over the top.”

Road fires also leave debris which could cause a motorcycle crash, or a motor vehicle to crash while trying to avoid the debris or a fire.

“Safety, not only fire safety, but life safety, is a concern,” Donovan said.

Also on Friday night, an unknown person used a paintball gun and white paintballs to vandalize the police station and a patrolling police car. Shortly before midnight on Friday, a person shot the police station from a moving vehicle, striking the exterior between 8-10 times. About 20 minutes later, Malynowski said, a cruiser that was patrolling on the common was struck with two more white paintballs, believed to have been fired by someone on foot.

Malynowski said the paintballs did not do any damage to the cruiser or to the police station.

Vandals returned to the common on Saturday evening, around 11 p.m., to toilet paper the trees on the common. Police received a report of about 20 people on the common from a resident. When police arrived, they saw only two people remaining, both of whom fled into the woods on foot. Police recovered between eight and 10 kitchen-sized trash bags full of unused toilet paper rolls that had been left behind.

Malynowski said police did not detain anyone over the weekend related to the vandalism, but are working to identify the people involved, as well as continuing to increase police presence to deter any further activities, including requesting additional officers from the New Hampshire State Police to assist with patrols.

“The tradition of toilet papering, over the years, has extended into hundreds and even thousands of dollars of mischief in town,” Malynowski said. “Whether it’s a tire fire damaging the road, which the Highway Department has to repair, or vandalizing benches and sign posts, or burnouts on the common, it’s unnecessary. It’s not tradition, it’s criminal. This is not a right of passage or tradition. It’s turned into something that’s completely unnecessary, and it diverts our attention away from where we should be focusing.”

Donovan too, said the vandalism has put unwarranted pressure on the fire department, which is not typically staffed during nights and weekends, and pulled his firemen into service during their off-days.

“It’s a huge burden on my department, and it’s a burden on the taxpayer. And it’s taking them away from what could be a more serious call,” Donovan said. “It’s just not right. I’m frustrated myself with the whole thing, and wish we could find a different avenue to have fun that’s not so disrespectful to the town of Rindge. A lot of people think of these tire fires as a tradition. It’s not a tradition. You’re polluting the air, and creating a hazardous situation.”

Malynowski said the weekend’s activity did not result in major damage to town property, and encouraged residents to be vigilant in the coming weeks as Halloween approaches, and report any suspicious activity to police immediately. The 24-hour dispatch line for Rindge police is 603-355-2000.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.




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