WILCOX CO., AL (WSFA) - Clean-up continues at a Wilcox County landmark targeted by a group of people who claimed they were searching for ghosts.
They caused thousands of dollars in damage when they broke into the Snow Hill Institute.
Splintered wood is evidence of the force used to bust down a side door and gain access to the historic African-American school located in East Wilcox County.
It was vandalized Sunday afternoon. It's located not far off of Highway 21 in the Snow Hill Community.
A man who lives nearby heard loud noises coming from one of the vacant buildings and went to investigate. He spotted a car parked on the premises, got the tag number and called police. Two juveniles and two adults were arrested near the institute and charged with burglary and criminal mischief.
Members of the Snow Hill Community Organization have been working to preserve the site and came to survey the damage when they found out what happened.
Clara Gulley, a member of the group, pointed out different spots in the path of destruction, including overturned desks, ransacked rooms and shattered windows.
"The door had been knocked in and windows knocked out or shot out. They also knocked out some of the closet doors," she said. "It's really sad and heartbreaking to see something of value that's been destroyed. It lets you know that people don't take things under consideration, things that are valued. This has sentimental value for me because I graduated from this high school in 1966."
At its peak, Snow Hill Institute included 27 buildings, a staff of 35, and over 400 students. It was operated as a private school for African-American children until the founder, Dr. William J. Edwards, retired in 1924. It then became a public school and was operated by the State of Alabama until 1973, when a court-ordered desegregation order forced its closing.
In 1993, the school was registered as a Historic Landmark, and was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
It's been used for tutoring classes, receptions and alumni reunions. Children come to play on the basketball courts and people come to tour the site. It's owned by the Wilcox County Board of Education.
"We need this building for repast, for people who don't have anywhere to go when they have a death in their family. You can't get anyone to come up in this building now. But we will. It's going to get better," said Eursula Harris Smiley, a member of the Snow Hill Community Organization.
Wilcox County Sheriff Earnest Evans did not provide the names of those arrested, but indicated that three of the suspects are from Wilcox County and one is from Lowndes County.
The group claimed they were looking for ghosts, but the Snow Hill Community Organization has never heard of the institute being haunted. Members say they don't understand why the suspects did so much damage.
"We just didn't need that vandalizing," Smiley said. "We just want them to pay us for what they have done, that's the only thing. We didn't want anyone to destroy it. It's already going down, but we wanted to pick it up."
The organization needs assistance with repairs.
"We're in need of a new roof because it's raining in the building and that's why we're soliciting help from anyone who can send donations," Gulley said. "All our alumni out there, we're soliciting your help."
She's posted several pictures of the damage on Facebook and received numerous comments from other graduates.
"They're very upset and sad about the situation," she added.
Donations can be sent to Clara Gulley, Snow Hill Community Organization P.O. Box 10, Furman, AL 36741.
Damage estimates are still being conducted.