BRUNSWICK/PENDER COUNTIES, NC (WECT) - A Pender County teacher noticed 127 chocolate bars intended for a fundraiser were missing when they walked back into their classroom for the first time after Hurricane Florence. Not missing were the numerous wrappers the assumed chocolate thief left behind.
Another educator, presumably a music teacher, at a different Pender County school noticed a saxophone valued at more than $6,000 was nowhere to be found.
In all, hundreds of items were reported missing or damaged by teachers across the region as they returned to their classrooms after the devastating storm.
There’s no doubt Pender County Schools sustained significant damage. So, it stands to reason that many items left inside those buildings were damaged as well. But missing altogether?
It’s taken weeks for Pender County to get its arms around the hundreds of missing items from its schools. And there’s not a clear explanation of why so many of those items just disappeared. By contrast, New Hanover County Schools, which sustained far less damage, but still a notable amount, reported no missing items in any of its schools, a spokesperson confirmed.
Pender County Schools is not the only district to report lost items. Brunswick County Schools also compiled a list of items reported missing or damaged during the hurricane.
WECT received copies of both school districts’ lists through a public records request, which was filed after teachers concerned both their personal and professional items had been stolen contacted a reporter.
Records provided by Pender County Schools lists the total replacement cost at just over $155,000 for the nearly 700 lost and damaged items.
The school district previously announced Florence and its aftermath caused millions of dollars in damage across its schools, which suffered from flooding and leaks, ultimately leading to mold growth.
Mold also infiltrated books, chairs, various supplies, keyboards and more, records show, totaling thousands of dollars in replacement costs. Other significant items damaged include five Husqvarna embroidery machines valued at nearly $31,000, six iPad Minis valued at just over $2,550, and a mellophone worth more than $2,000.
But interestingly, a significant portion of the district’s list of damage is made up of missing items, some of which were worth hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.
A teacher at Burgaw Elementary reported a $400+ iPad Mini and two chargers were gone. And at neighboring Burgaw Middle, a teacher reported a trumpet valued at more than $500 was missing.
Across the county at Topsail Middle School, five laptops worth more than $5,100 were reported lost. Also reported missing from the middle school were two Sony Cybershot RX100 20.2 Megapixel digital cameras, complete with chargers and memory cards, worth nearly $800.
Teachers and staff in schools across the district also reported less-expensive items – supplies, computer speakers, books, etc. – as missing.
Conservatively, just under 300 of the 692 items on the list are considered lost with an estimated value of $42,967.63, a WECT review found. That tally only includes items clearly marked missing.
Although some of the “missing” items on the list were apparently taken (the chocolate bars, for example), district spokesperson Miranda Ferguson emphasized in an email the items were considered either missing or damaged, and that the list was not complete.
A follow-up email asking who all had access to the facilities prior to teachers’ return and if law enforcement is investigating if any of the missing items were stolen was not immediately returned.
Contrary to Pender County, some missing items at several Brunswick County Schools were explicitly listed as stolen.
Staff at Lincoln, Belville, and Town Creek elementary schools all reported at least one iPad had been taken, records show. Additionally, a Lenovo chrome book missing from Leland Middle School was also listed as “suspected theft.”
Overall, however, Brunswick County Schools listed far less items as “missing” compared to Pender County, a review of Brunswick’s records found. The district’s list mostly consisted of damaged property – book cases, computers, charges, etc.
Daniel Seamans, spokesperson for Brunswick County Schools, said on Wednesday law enforcement is not currently involved in items reported missing and/or stolen.
“We’re still trying to determine if they were actually stolen or part of the hurricane/water damaged items and inventoried incorrectly,” Seamans said.