When a Leawood family returned from vacation last summer, they discovered the home they loved had been ravaged.
The door ripped off the walls. Cherished artwork shot with pellets. The floors strewn with trash and empty alcohol containers.
In all, teens who had broken in and partied for weeks caused at least $90,000 in damage to the house, and damage to contents could push the cost much higher, police say.
Area police say it’s not unusual for teens to party in empty houses, and with spring break approaching, they say residents should take precautions.
The Leawood house illustrates a worst-case scenario. The only other case in memory that approaches it was the teen invasion of another Leawood house 15 years ago that caused $50,000 damage.
In the recent case, teens partied from July 26 to Aug. 18 last summer, destroying or substantially defacing much of the house, including walls, furniture, paintings and artwork, according to court records.
Leawood police say some of the teens used an Airsoft gun to shoot hundreds of plastic pellets into the walls, ceilings and artwork.
“They used the house as target practice,” said Leawood Detective John Freeman. “They shot the valuables in the house along with the house.”
The owners of the home, who had to move into an apartment for several weeks while repairs were made, did not want to comment while the case is pending.
For now, the case currently is moving slowly through court. Police would not be specific but said more than 10 teens were known to be in the home. Two who live in the neighborhood and attend high school in the Blue Valley School District have been charged as juveniles.
One of the juveniles was charged with felony criminal damage to property and criminal trespass.
“My guy is not responsible for $90,000 damage,” said Christopher Brown, the teen’s attorney. He said he would not comment further while the case was in court.
The second teen, accused of ripping off the door that leads from the garage to the house, is charged with misdemeanor criminal damage to property and criminal trespassing. He was charged later with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.
“He’s a young kid,” said Joe Ramboldt, his attorney. “He’s a good kid. I hate for him to have any negative attention. It’s just a dumb kid kind of deal.”
Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe would not comment on whether more teens are likely to be charged.
Police in some other suburbs said the Leawood case may be extreme, but it’s not unusual for teens to throw weekend parties at homes when adults are away.
Lee’s Summit Sgt. Chris Depue and Overland Park Officer Gary Mason offered tips for residents, especially with spring break around the corner and summer vacation not far away.
Most important, they said, is to let your neighbors know when you are going to be gone.
“The best person to keep an eye on it is the person next door,” Depue said. “They know exactly what looks in and out of place.”
In the Leawood case, neighbors saw kids going in the home last summer. They didn’t call police because they didn’t know what was happening, but thought it was a bit suspicious.
“One of the neighbors even took pictures of license plates of cars hiding around the corner,” said Leawood Detective John Freeman.
Police also recommended that homeowners change their garage door codes. The garage door can even be disconnected.
Parents should warn their children not to give their friends permission to come to the house while they are gone.
In addition, many police departments have a program that a resident can call to notify police to have them do drive-by patrols when they are away on vacation.
In 1998, teens held a notorious weekend party that caused $50,000 damage to another Leawood home, a 6,000-square-foot house in the 3000 block of West 135th Street.
Back then, Detective Freeman was with another officer when they spotted two teens walking across a field near the house.
“They had been drinking … and the next thing you know they started talking about the party,” Freeman said. “Other officers went to the house and, lo and behold, there were people running everywhere.”
It was estimated that 150 to 200 teenagers attended the beer party. More than 30 teens who had varying degrees of involvement were later charged.
“The first two kids started giving names, and those kids gave names, and it sort of snowballed,” Freeman said.
Many of the parents didn’t understand the gravity of the damage, a police sergeant told The Star at the time.
“One parent said, ‘All these kids were doing was having a beer party,’ ” the sergeant said. “One kid wondered if he could still spend spring break in Cancun.”
Today, Freeman is investigating last summer’s party house.
He said damages to the two houses are different. In the house in the 1998 incident, kids literally destroyed the house, punching holes in the wall, breaking mirrors and windows. There were no valuables in the house because the owners had moved and the house was on the market.
“The ‘98 house looked worse to the eye, but this one (last summer), they damaged more stuff,” Freeman said. “This one, the damage is more.”