Safety Inspector Frank Bilbrey, left, and Assistant Principal Ruthie Panni examine extensive damage caused by a vandal inside of a portable classroom at Westview Elementary School on Tuesday. Aaron Roden, 22, was apprehended and charged by police at the scene early Tuesday morning.Photo by Dan Henry.
Sheriff Jim Hammond couldn’t say Tuesday what possessed a 22-year-old man to single-handedly vandalize Westview Elementary School so badly that the school was closed all day.
But the rampage that led to Aaron Roden’s arrest early Tuesday morning appeared to be the work of a man possessed.
There was a trail of damage in the roughly 800-student school on East Brainerd Road just outside Chattanooga city limits. Wreckage included shattered windows in at least 15 classrooms, a crushed urinal and toilet in the boy’s kindergarten bathroom, toppled shelves and desks, torn-down ceiling tiles, smashed flower pots and empty fire extinguishers in the hallways — that doubled as bludgeons used to smash glass.
“Did you see the drain spout in the back? He twisted it like a ribbon.” said school board member Donna Horn. “I think it’s just despicable what he did.”
The suspect moved quickly.
He triggered the school’s alarm system at 4:58 a.m., and Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at 5:10 a.m. They arrested him on suspicion of burglary, two counts of aggravated assault on an officer and vandalism over $60,000.
“We’re going to have to go ahead and run some mental health tests on him,” Hammond said Tuesday.
Roden, who’s from Franklin, Tenn., didn’t have any known connection to the elementary school, Assistant School Superintendent Gary Waters said.
Before triggering the alarm, the suspect smashed windows from outside with bricks and rocks. He also tore through several trailers that serve as temporary classrooms, smashing windows, overturning desks, denting the trailers’ skirting and ripping down porch lights. Like a tornado, he left computers untouched in some rooms, but destroyed smart boards — high-tech version of chalkboards — in at least two classrooms.
“The young man was just on a rampage and bent on destruction,” Waters said.
It was Roden’s second serious run-in with the law in less than a week.
Early Friday morning, Roden was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault after police said he used a butcher’s knife to cut a 19-year-old man in the neck in the north Chattanooga condominium where Roden had lived for two months. The men were intoxicated, the police report said, and got into an argument over a girl.
“He wasn’t a punk,” said Liane Carullo, the condominium’s property manager. “He wasn’t rude. Easy to speak with. Friendly. Very mannerly.”
Carullo evicted Roden after the stabbing. The victim, who wasn’t a condominium resident, had to get seven stitches, she said, but didn’t appear to be seriously injured when he came to pick up his car the next day.
Roden’s father, Michael, works as an assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nashville. He declined to comment Tuesday.
School employees and outside contractors were slated to work late into the night cleaning up Westview Elementary School. It was due to reopen today with Plexiglas and boards covering some of the smashed windows.
“It won’t be 100 percent, but the building will be secure and safe,” Waters said.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.