Vandals torch children's playground

BELLAIRE, TX Slides and swings were destroyed over the weekend at The Russ Pitman Park on Newcastle.

This is not the biggest crime you've heard of, but consider where it happened. A neighborhood park and a playground where small children got to play, slide and climb. There is something almost sacred about these kinds of spaces and now one of them has been violated.

On one side of Evergreen Street, a playground is now closed off with yellow tape. On the other, school children have to make do with another playground intended for larger kids.

Parents are trying to make sense of why the slide set and a jungle gym in Pitman Park is no more than melted plastic and twisted metal.

"Maybe they were playing around, messing around and started something," hypothesized parent Madeleine Peterman. "Why would you destroy a playground?"

The fire was reported around 4:30am Sunday and investigators expect gasoline or charcoal fluid may have started it. The materials burned like a tire. (SEE FIRE DEPARTMENT'S LETTER TO PARENTS)

"There are a lot of plastic pieces involved," said Bellaire Fire Marshal Alton Moses. "Once it makes plastic breakdown, it burns quickly."

The flames were tall enough to singe tree branches. That fire could have spread to homes. Investigators say it looked like a teen-aged crime.

We asked if the fire marshal thought the fire starters could have come from the neighborhood.

"Who knows," he replied. "It's a broad neighborhood around Bellaire so it could be anyone. People travel through here a lot."

The cost to replace the equipment and prune trees could reach $100,000. The fire-damaged playground remains closed for now, but one mom plans to let her children see it.

"I use it for a good learning experience for my kids," parent Lara Ogden told us. "I'm going to show them what can happen and how disrespectful people can be."

Evidence taken from the fire has been sent to the crime lab to check for accelerants. We're told the Bellaire Fire Department is checking with Crime Stoppers to see if what happened is eligible for a reward for information.

If you have information on the park arson, call the Bellaire Fire Marshal's Office at 713-662-8203. You can read more about the story in the Bellaire Examiner, our Houston Community Newspaper partner.

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