It started in early April, when staff at the Autism Behavioural Services in Fergus saw the words ‘retard nation’ spray-painted across the old school building used as a therapy building for children with autism.
Since then, goods were stolen and the property was damaged in the school building and former St. Joseph’s Church and parish used for physical activities.
The buildings are both owned and operated by ABS and provide services for approximately 45 children with autism.
Owner Freya Hunter said on April 13, the former church was broken into resulting in over $70,000 worth of damage to both the buildings and its contents.
“It felt heartbreaking when I'm looking at all the therapeutic material because I always think to myself, these are things for kids with special needs. Here is all of their stuff. I felt they were cheated, which I think broke my heart the most,” said Hunter.
She said when the staff walked into the church building after the break-in, they saw paint all over the floor with materials thrown about.
"Everything was just smashed. We had three of the cathedral windows or the big windows broken,” said Hunter adding that everything was covered in paint and soda.
“All of the stuff that we were using was just thrown about and completely covered in garbage and dirt,” she said.
OPP media officer Kirk MacDonald confirmed the three incidents. The first two acts of vandalism and breaking in and stealing were criminal offences. A third incident on May 16 was an act of trespassing caught on a security camera Hunter installed after the first incident took place. Hunter shared the video on the ABS Facebook page.
“It was devastating. It was incredibly violating to think that somebody would walk into somebody else's space especially knowing it is for kids with autism.”
MacDonald said the OPP is investigating the incidents.
“We still have officers that are working on it and we certainly are looking for any public information that may assist in our investigation. If they want to remain anonymous, they can contact Crime Stoppers as well,” said MacDonald.
Hayley Payne, clinical director at the ABS organized a GoFundMe page with a goal to raise $10,000 to recoup some costs.
She said while insurance will cover some costs of damage to the building, some contents may not be recovered. She added that the ABS needs to install a quality outdoor security system because the recent incidents were not isolated onces.
The ABS had also had to cancel two annual fundraising events due to COVID in the last two years which typically raise $10,000 that goes toward therapeutic supplies, technology upgrades and subsidized rates to access therapy for families.
“It's super unfortunate,” said Payne.
“That's a safe space for our kids to learn to play, distribute themselves and now that's not only been violated but it's been temporarily taken away from them.”