Police investigate break-in at Southeast Austin learning center

Empty classrooms are nearly all that's left at Child Inc's Palomita Head Start.

"We were just horrified at what we saw," says the center's director, Rachel Salazar.

It should have been the start of the summer session for 56 young kids, but the weeks now being spent scrubbing the walls. Vandals broke in to the Southeast Austin learning center over the weekend.

"A lot of mixed emotions as to who would want to do this to a child development center," asks Salazar as she recalls the images permanently etched in her memory.

The center's cook called Salazar after discovering the damage on Monday morning. When Salazar arrived to survey it, she wasn't prepared for what she would find, "We saw furniture turned upside down, we saw food and paint covered everywhere and graffiti tags all over the center."

Salazar says Austin police spent much of Monday gathering evidence and searching for clues. With no cameras in place, it would seem that investigators have their work cut out for them. But the brazen criminals may have left their mark with more than just graffiti, half-eaten bowls of cereal were found too.

"They're thinking maybe a wanna be gang, not violent," says Salazar of who the suspects might be.

She also says neighbors told her on Friday night they ran off three people who were looking through the office window. The suspects used the window to get into the place, but there is no evidence that it's the same people.

"I hope they get themselves in the right direction and realize how many people they've affected and children through this," says Salazar

Child Inc. spent two years and tens of thousands of dollars renovating the center, opening their doors in the neighborhood in April. Families, Salazar says are being forced to find other care for their children while the center cleans up the damage.

"It's a big strain because a lot of our families are low income." she adds.

The Center is scheduled to re-open on Monday, and they will be adding security. There was a break-in at a nearby elementary also over the weekend.

AISD says there was damage but no graffiti. Austin Police say they are aware of that break-in but aren't sure if there's a link yet.

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