Ellie Jaynes was a little nervous as she returned to Westview Elementary School on Wednesday morning. She saw ceiling tiles torn down in one of the offices and was a little afraid.
"I didn't know what I would see," Ellie said. "But, I am in the fifth grade and one of the oldest kids in the school so I was brave."
Ellie is one of about 800 students who attend the school that was closed Tuesday after vandalism that authorities believed was caused by Aaron Roden.
"Only three children were absent today. Parents trust me and the teachers to protect their children," Principal Margo Williams said.
About 200 parents and teachers, along with their families, attended a vigil Wednesday night outside the school. Students giggled with their friends, younger children held onto their mothers' legs, and dads balanced kids on their shoulders as members of the Westview community stood holding hands, representing their unity.
The crowd stood on the grass and listened as David Sternberg, pastor of Bridge Church and the parent of a student at Westview, encouraged them not to view Roden as an enemy.
Williams gave her students a similar message earlier in the day at a schoolwide assembly.
"This fellow intended no harm. He had no connection to the school. He just landed here," she said. "I think this was his cry for help."
Williams said that her students were not concerned if there was blood, if the man tried to hurt police, or if something like this would happen again. Instead, the kids asked questions about the well-being of Roden.
A team of people worked late into the night Tuesday to allow classes to resume.
The damage caused to the school will be covered by insurance after the $10,000 deductible is met, according to Assistant Superintendent Gary Waters.
It remains unclear to authorities what possessed Roden to vandalize the school. As of late Wednesday afternoon, he remained in Erlanger hospital under medical supervision, according to Sheriff Jim Hammond.
Once Roden is released from Erlanger the authorities will continue with an arrest and a court date will be set, Hammond said.
A complete list of damage has not been released, but it has been reported that at least 15 classrooms had shattered windows, a urinal and toilet in the boy's kindergarten bathroom were crushed, desks and shelves were strewn about, ceiling tiles were torn-down, and smashed flower pots and empty fire extinguishers were used to smash glass.
Roden has been charged with suspicion of burglary, two counts of aggravated assault on an officer and vandalism over $60,000.
According to Tennessee Code, vandalism damage between $10,000 and $60,000 is a class C felony and carries a three- to 15-year sentence with a $10,000 fine. If charged with vandalism exceeding $60,000, it becomes a class B felony and carries an eight- to 30-year sentence and $25,000 in fines.
This was Roden's second serious encounter with the law this month and his 11th incident with authorities since November 2010.
On Aug. 4 of this year, Roden was arrested in Hamilton County on a charge of aggravated assault after he allegedly cut another man with a knife while both were intoxicated, according to the police report. Roden was released from jail on a $40,000 bond.
Roden has previous charges in Franklin, Tenn., and Whitfield, Tenn., that include probation violations, DUIs, identity theft and vandalism.
Despite the damage done to the school the students' spirits were not trampled. At the vigil they raised their hands along with the crowd to do the wave, and a group of boys chanted to each other, "We are the Wildcats! We are strong!"
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at email@example.com or at 423-757-6592.