Roughly 20 computers, three copy machines, kitchen appliances and more were impacted in an Austin man’s alleged Aug. 10 vandalism spree that caused up to $300,000 in damage at Carpenter Hill Elementary School.
But a motive into what drove James Michael Kerr, 24, of Austin, to wreak havoc inside of the campus near Buda remains under investigation.
On Aug. 13, Kerr was booked into the Hays County Jail on one charge of criminal mischief and one charge of arson, both second-degree felonies. Kerr was also booked on one charge of burglary of a building, a state jail felony. Kerr is being held in the Hays County Jail on $40,000 bond.
According to an arrest affidavit magistrated by Hays County Pct. 1.2 Justice of the Peace Maggie H. Moreno, deputies were dispatched to Carpenter Hill Elementary in the early morning hours Aug. 10 for a criminal mischief call. When authorities arrived, they found extensive damage inside of the campus, as well as a sledgehammer inside the cafeteria area of the school near a broken window.
Review of closed circuit cameras inside of the school showed a man, later identified as Kerr, exiting a vehicle and obtaining a sledgehammer from a construction site near the building. The man proceeded to break the upper glass pane on a door leading to the cafeteria, and eventually entered the campus with the sledgehammer in hand.
After camera footage showed the man entering and exiting a nearby bathroom, he was then seen breaking a trophy case near the front office, as well as damaging computers near the reception desk. The man then entered the hallway and went into the administrative office area and discharged a fire extinguisher, according to the affidavit. Deputies then assume Kerr entered the library and used the sledgehammer to damage several computers, before he was seen on camera leaving the way he entered.
While on scene, authorities found a microwave on a countertop in the hallway leading from the library to the administrative offices. Within the microwave was a heating element plate belonging to a teakettle, which showed “obvious signs of heat damage,” including plastic and the rubber coating from the outlet cord that was severely melted. Authorities noted a burning smell in the front portion of the building, according to the affidavit.
In the teachers’ lounge, deputies discovered a microwave with two Reddi Whip cans inside. The cans showed signs of heat damage that included scorch marks and what appeared to be blackened soot-style markings on the can. In addition, the plastic nozzle was melted from the top of the can.
According to the affidavit, it is “common knowledge” that microwaving a metal can with compressed air runs a risk of causing a fire or explosion.
One day after the incident, Hays County law enforcement officials reached out to Austin Police, who said a family member contacted them and identified the suspect as Kerr.
Hays County officials conducted a social media search and found Kerr’s Facebook profile, which allegedly showed consistencies with the description of the person caught on video surveillance footage.
When authorities executed a search warrant on Kerr’s home, located in the 100 block of Desert Primrose Drive, they allegedly found the same t-shirt and hat worn by the suspect in surveillance footage.
Tim Savoy, Hays CISD chief communications officer, said in a statement the total cost of damage and clean-up ranges from $150,000 to $300,000. Savoy said no teacher classrooms were affected and that all of the damage is expected to be cleared before teachers return to campus in several days.
“I can’t thank our law enforcement friends enough. The men and women in the Hays County Sheriff’s Office are always at the ready to assist our schools, employees, and students, at a moment’s notice and with any help we seek. They work tirelessly to keep us safe,” said Superintendent Eric Wright in a statement. “This case is no different. They have been on the job, investigating this vandalism incident non-stop since it happened. I am happy they have a suspect in custody. Now, we can begin to seek justice and restitution.”