Gautier playground vandalism ignites tempers

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - Saturday was supposed to be a good day for Frazier Park in Gautier.  But a late-night vandalism split a playground into two pieces, flaring tempers throughout the community and among officials.

"I was mad as hell," area resident J.D. Reddix said. "Simple. I'm mad; I'm real mad!"

The vandalism also angered Gautier's Mayor, Tommy Fortenberry.  He was in the process of launching a public campaign to solicit funding to improve the park.

"You know, we were going to come out here and see about raising money from the community to see about building rest rooms and things like that. We have to start back from ground zero now thanks to some moron," Fortenberry said. "I'm very upset about it. I'm upset about it as a Mayor. I'm upset about it for the community. This is a good community."

The city moved the playground equipment to Frazier park from another city park a week ago, as a temporary place for kids to play. Some people thought the equipment wasn't adequate.

"It's wood," Shelia Coleman said. "It's splintered. It's old, and one swing, one handheld monkey bar. The community as a whole actually feels that this is an insult, to actually bring a used piece of equipment over here."

Gautier resident Walter Malone asked the city council to take it down last week. Fortenberry said the city was going to follow suit. When they arrived, Fortenberry said area residents asked them to let the equipment stay. J.D. Reddix was one of them.

"I live here," he said to a crowd Saturday. "I live in this community. This was good enough for my children and my grandchildren to come and play on."

Reddix said he was grateful the city moved the equipment to his neighborhood and never considered it unsafe.

"Was it a safety issue? I didn't see it," Reddix said.

"The kids could have played on this," he said pointing to the equipment that lay on its side.  "But right now, what could they do? They can't play on it because of this [broken play equipment]. This is stupid."

Even those who weren't happy with the playground don't approve of its destruction. Especially Pastor Jerome Blenks of New Era Missionary Baptist Church. The church regularly holds events in the park.

"I'm disappointed," Blenks said. "I'm upset because we were going through the proper channels with the mayor and the city council to get proper equipment out here. Then someone comes out here and does this here, and it doesn't improve anything. I'm disgusted and disappointed."

Fortenberry said he's sad for the children who live in the area.

"When its all said and done, there was no sense in this," Fortenberry said. "And it's the children in this community that are going to pay, temporarily."

Mayor Tommy Fortenberry says the playground will be rebuilt and the other improvements he'd planned will still be made.

"We're going to rebuild this," Fortenberry said. "We're going to make it better. From my heart I wanted to help this community."

The city of Gautier and the New Era Missionary Baptist are each offering $500 rewards for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in this case.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.