Police Investigate Christmas Pranks
JILL DAVIDSON SKLAR STAFF WRITER
ewish teen-agers may have
been involved in two inci-
dents where Christmas
symbols were stolen from
citizens' yards, police said.
Officers in West Bloomfield are
investigating the theft of a stat-
ue of the infant Jesus, and 32
teens were ticketed in Farming-
ton Hills for a similar theft. The
incidents, both occurring in late
December, have been labeled dis-
respectful pranks by police.
In the first incident, Jewish
teen-agers, most of whom attend
West Bloomfield High School, al-
legedly stole statues of a lamb
and the infant Jesus from a citi-
zen's front yard.
A picture of the Jesus statue,
adorned with sunglasses and in
the arms of one of the teens, was
circulated at the high school. Also
circulated were rumors that the
teens did not stop at the picture
but desecrated the Christian
"I heard stories about (the stat-
ue) being burned, mutilated,
hung from a tree, none of which
I have found to be true," said
Mark Wilson, a juvenile officer
with the West Bloomfield Police
Officer Wilson said the home-
owner did not file a report be-
cause the property would be easy
to replace. The statue has not
He said that while the activi-
ty involved the theft of a religious
symbol, it was not motivated by
bias against Christians.
"This was not a religious ac-
tivity. It was kids using bad judg-
ment," Officer Wilson said.
Detective Robert Burkart of
the Farmington Hills Police De-
partment felt the same about a
scavenger hunt in which several
North Farmington High School
students took part. That activity
also featured the theft of holiday
Detective Burkart said that on
the evening of Dec. 17 someone
called to report that about half of
the creche display at Prince of
Peace Lutheran Church in Farm-
ington Hills was stolen. A short
time later, officers spotted a car
filled with teens and statues from
The teens told officers that
they were on a scavenger hunt
organized by a fellow North
Farmington student. They hand-
ed over a list of items to collect
which included stop signs and
grocery carts. It also gave a meet-
ing place to bring the stolen
der the age of 17 and were turned
over to Farmington Youth Assis-
tance, an alternative sentencing
program which provides coun-
seling to teens.
The others, all over 17, plead-
ed guilty and were assessed court
costs of $50 each. In addition,
each was given a one-year sen-
tence which was taken under ad-
visement, a punishment which
allows the offender's record to be
expunged if there is no contact
with police during the year.
Restitution will be determined
at a later date.
Detective Burkart said that
while many of the items that
Police officers waited at the were stolen were returned to
meeting site. As the students ar- their owners, several pieces re-
rived with their bounty, each was main at the police station.
ticketed. In all, 32 youths, some
"For a while there, I had a
of whom were Jewish, were giv- whole flock of baby Jesuses," he
said. "Although we returned a
"It was a scavenger hunt that good portion, we still have some
got out of control. It was a nativity scenes."
prank," Detective Burkart said.
Richard Lobenthal, executive
"The stop signs were more seri- director of the Anti-Defamation
ous than the nativity scenes. League, said the thefts showed a
People could have gotten into se- lack of sensitivity toward others'
Twelve of the youths were un-
"It is insensitive," he said. "It
sentenced for their
Plans To Return
Makes The Grade
JENNIFER FINER STAFF WRITER
JILL DAVIDSON SKLAR STAFF WRITER
t has been five months since a
student slipped a drug into
Ellen Hechler's coffee, but the
Detroit middle-school teacher
still can't bring herself to go back
Although the student — a 12-
year-old girl — was sentenced
last week to 12 weeks probation,
Ms. Hechler continues to suffer
anxiety attacks. She has also ex-
perienced a resurgence of lupus,
a chronic disease she has had for
years, that was triggered by
stress she experienced after the
"I am stressed out and emo-
tionally drained," Ms. Hechler
The drugging incident oc-
curred on Sept. 21. Ms. Hechler
tasted nothing unusual in her cof-
fee but later became "violently"
ill while cooking dinner.
When Ms. Hechler returned to
the classroom, another student
told her what the girl had done.
The girl later confessed, saying
shows a monumental lack of re-
spect for the other person's faith."
He added that Jews should un-
derstand the harm of such acts.
"From a historic point of view,
it conjures up all kinds of images.
When was the last time that re-
ligious items were put to fire or
damaged?" he said, referring to
the Holocaust. "Of all people in
the world, Jews should be sensi-
The incidents also troubled
Arnie Weiner, executive director
of B'nai B'rith Youth Organiza-
tion, who was disturbed by the
lack of respect the teens showed
for another religion.
"It is very unlike Jewish peo-
ple to do these things," he said.
"It is not part of our tradition."
He added that it is dangerous
for youngsters to participate in a
scavenger hunt where they have
to ask for items, much less steal
"We live in a society where peo-
ple are keeping guns in their
homes and will use them," he
said. "Sometimes we don't think
about the consequences." ❑
she had slipped Ms.
Hechler sleeping pills,
thinking it would
In addition to the
probation, the girl must
Since that Septem-
ber day, Ms. Hechler
has suffered from post-
traumatic stress disor-
der, a psychological
reaction to trauma. She
has lost weight and is
under the care of sever-
She has run out of
sick days and no longer
is compensated for the
time she takes off from Ellen Hechler: Still off work.
work. She is seeking
restitution for lost
wages and doctors' expenses from man Middle School.
"At this point, I am anticipat-
the girl's family.
Although the attack continues ing to return to the classroom be-
to haunt her, Ms. Hechler hopes fore the end of the year," she said.
to return to teaching at Ruddi- "But when, I don't know." ❑
here are high school stu-
dents who have never
heard of polymers. Daniel
Wolfe, 18, knows what they
He is with these chains of long
tangled molecules every week-
end. Time, he says, that is well-
Almost two years ago, Mr.
Wolfe began making a regular
weekend drive to East Lansing,
where he conducts research un-
der the direction of a Michigan
State University chemistry pro-
Currently, he is trying to take
his polymers research to the next
step: getting polymers to trans-
mit light as a way of speeding up
The project has led the Roeper
School student to be named one
of 40 high-school senior finalists
in the 54th annual Westinghouse
Science Talent Search. More
than 1,600 students nationwide
entered the contest, which in its
54 years has selected five future
Nobel Prize winners.
The lengthy application
process was more involved than
all his college applications corn-
bined, says Mr. Wolfe. "I was ec-
static," upon learning of his
finalist status says the 12th-grad-
er, who has summer job offers
from NASA, Ford and the U.S.
Navy. "My goal was to be a semi-
finalist. When I got the phone call
I fell down, I was so amazed."
Next month, Mr. Wolfe will
travel to Washington, D.C., to at-
tend a five-day Science Talent In- LO
stitute and a chance to share o)
$205,000 in Westinghouse Sci-
When he was an eighth-grad-
er, he was allowed to take a 10th- >-
grade chemistry class and was
hooked. Now he hopes to major CC
in chemistry at either Rice Uni- CO
versity or Duke University in the w
"Dan was the first younger
ROEPER' page 16