Pete the Pirate is home.
Days after five teen vandals broke into Fairhope High School and spirited away with the beloved bronze statue it was returned unharmed – a happy ending to a story that was built on a lot of difficult life lessons.
The teens, all minors, are facing a long list of felonies and misdemeanors in several jurisdictions throughout the county. The schools they struck are facing damages that amount to several thousand dollars in some places. The communities they injured are thankful to have each other.
“We have kids from all over this county who attend our school, and this affected them greatly,” said Fairhope High School Principal Jon Cardwell. “Some students from other schools were calling to say, ‘I know who they are and what they did ain’t right’. A lot of people take a lot of pride in our schools.”
When Cardwell arrived at the school on July 6 after the long holiday weekend, he saw the graffiti outside.
He and the School Resource Officer downloaded security camera footage which showed the group of teens make their way into the building, down the halls and to the front office area.
And then, they saw the teens take Pete.
Cardwell ran into the school’s front hall to verify that the glass cabinet that held the bronze statue was indeed empty.
Pete was gone.
The vandals broke into five different schools between July 2 and July 6, including Bayside Academy, Daphne, Fairhope, Foley and Gulf Shores High Schools. The damage varied by location, but classrooms, kitchens and gyms were ransacked, items were stolen, walls were painted, ugly words were left on school buses. Damage estimates at some locations reach into the thousands of dollars.
While Cardwell said Fairhope suffered what was arguably the least amount of dollar damage, the community took the hardest punch in the gut with the disappearance of the beloved pirate.
“It’s kind of like they are messing with you when they mess with the pirate, a lot of our kids were upset,” Cardwell said.
That morning as police began working official angles, Fairhope High’s staff began searching dumpsters, nearby retention ponds and neighborhoods – anywhere that a giddy group of teens may have decided to dump the nearly 40-pound statue in the early morning hours, all the while hoping, Cardwell said, “that it was somewhere.”
Cardwell penned an email to parents asking them to be on the lookout for Pete.
Later that day he checked Facebook and found his letter plastered on every page he visited. When he visited the Fairhope Police Station he said everyone was on the case.
“They were chasing down Instagram feeds, searching Facebook posts, even the records clerk was beating the bushes, it was amazing,” Cardwell said. “Mayor Sullivan told the police, ‘get our pirate back’. That was cool.
“The school means something to people,” he said. “When they came in here it was like they had broken into their own house. It was refreshing to see people working together to make this right.”
Eventually one of those online posts found the parents of one of the vandals. They called the local police and turned their child in and returned the pirate. Fairhope Police brought Pete back to the high school and set him on Cardwell’s desk.
He said the strength that family showed in fixing their son’s mistake was encouraging.
“Kids are always going to make mistakes. It’s just refreshing to see parents teaching that lesson of character and stepping up to make those kids own it,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s how you recover.”
Cardwell sent another email with the good news and a heartfelt thank you to the community that continues to maintain a “neighborhood school feeling” even as the city grows.
“Some people might say, it was just a pirate, but I can’t say enough about the police and what they do for us every single day. It’s amazing. They’ve always been there when we need them.”