GARY | It took 80 Gary residents, including nine teenagers, a year of planning, 13 hours of hard labor and $4,000 in raised funds to make Buffington Park a place for families again. *
It took someone a few minutes over the weekend to set their work on fire.
“The word I used was 'torched,’” said Staff Sgt. Bridgette Kelly, whose youth foundation, the Bridgette C. Kelly Youth Foundation, adopted the park and performed the repairs. “They didn't do this with a match and piece of paper.”
Buffington Park, 200 E. Seventh Ave., had fences tossed, plantings ripped out, signs set on fire and the playground scorched and partly melted, undoing repairs about 80 Gary residents did last month after adopting the long-decrepit park.
“In the end, that's what bothers me the most. It's not what we did as a foundation. It's what these kids did for their city,” Kelly said of the nine teens who helped renovate the park. *
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the city will offer a reward leading to the arrest of the vandals.
"We will not be deterred by the actions of a few ignorant people," Freeman-Wilson said.
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Gary's Adopt-a-Park program was launched recently with much fanfare as a way to have volunteer groups maintain the parks in the cash-strapped city.
Freeman-Wilson said an accelerant appears to have been used to burn and melt the equipment.
Gary police Cpl. Gabrielle King said the largest fire appears to have started on the slide.
“Underneath was some rubber mulch, and when you set fire to rubber it just burns,” King said.
Kelly said she spoke to the volunteer students, all juniors and seniors from Gary's Roosevelt Technical Academy, about what happened. They will go back and re-plant flowers and other greenery, but she and the students will have to see whether they have enough money to replace the vandalized playground, she said.
Anyone with information about this crime is urged to call the Gary police at (219) 881-1214, King said.
* This story has been corrected from an earlier version. VOLUNTEERS MISIDENTIFIED: A story in some Wednesday editions contained an error. There were 80 volunteers who helped clean Buffington Memorial Park in Gary, but only nine of them were high school students. The Times regrets the error.