Ketchikan from the waterVandalism and nearby gunshots prompted a local nonprofit to halt work on a summer work effort by a team of AmeriCorps volunteers, who came to Ketchikan specifically to build a new paintball field for local youth.

Six young volunteers working for AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps program have been in Ketchikan for about three weeks. They’ve been working in the forest to clear brush, make safe pathways and build obstacles for Ketchikan Youth Initiatives’ new paintball field.

They have three weeks left to complete the project, but now, that might not happen. Here’s team leader Max Webster, describing how they recently found the paintball headquarters building when they arrived at the work site, just four miles down Revilla Road:

“Walking up there we found one of the protective boards that had been nailed up to protect the windows had been knocked off, and the door had been completely smashed in,” he said. “So it was some sort of heavy object – an ax or a crowbar or something like that – which left these really deep grooves in the door handle and bent the whole lock system down and around. So this double dead-bolted door had been completely smashed in and pushed in.”

Webster said it definitely was a tool that was used, and not the act of a determined bear seeking food. But, he said, it doesn’t appear that the person who did the damage was out to steal anything.

“It’s hard to account for because no item of value was taken from the facility, even though we had some tools that could be taken and swapped, and there was paintball paraphernalia that could have been sold as well, and none of that was taken,” he said.

Instead, Webster said some bottled water was taken out and cut open, along with some apple juice. And tools were strewn across the road.

“It’s not one of those things that you could easily say that somebody (was) just looking to find some profit, some quick money,” he said. “It was just a blatant act of vandalism.”

This isn’t the first time that Ketchikan Youth Initiatives paintball facility has been vandalized. But, KYI administrator Bobbie McCreary said this time is different.

“We’ve had lots of vandalism over the seven years that we’ve been out there, but never as violent as this,” she said. “It’s always been more mischievous vandalism, but unfortunately they’ve also shot up the building sometimes, and that’s always a concern because there might be someone in the building. But this was so aggressive that it was really a concern.”

Even more so, because there had been someone shooting a gun out in that area just the day before. And the shooter was too close.

Webster said a crew was working in the new paintball area, along with some local youth volunteers.

“A couple of members of the AmeriCorps team who were down working on the new paintball field could hear bullets passing through the trees around them,” he said. “Within 50 yards of where they were, they could hear bullets hitting wood, passing through branches and leaves. It was enough of a concern for them to take cover and vacate the area that they were working in.”

Webster said that’s definitely a problem, but it’ll be even more of a problem if people continue to shoot in that area once the site opens to kids for paintball games.

Getting people to stop, though, could be a challenge. Some people have been target shooting around there for a long time. McCreary said KYI has a lease agreement with Cape Fox Corp., which owns the site and the surrounding land.

“They have a full-time security person who has often run into people shooting out there, and had that day actually confronted someone telling him not to shoot,” she said. “They said, ‘Oh well, there’s lots of shells here; everybody’s shooting.’ So it’s really important for the community to step up and tell somebody to tell somebody to tell somebody that this is not OK.”

Because of the safety concerns, the AmeriCorps team has halted work at the paintball site, although Webster said he hopes they can get back to it soon.

“We do have a really great space picked down there, and we do have a lot of work into it,” he said. “The paintball field itself, once we resolve these issues, still will be a tremendous recreational resource for kids in this community. It’s just about doing the legwork now to make sure that it remains safe in the future.”

In the meantime, the AmeriCorps volunteers are working on other projects for KYI, and for other Ketchikan nonprofit agencies.

McCreary said the vandalism and the shooting have been reported to Alaska State Troopers. Troopers are asking anyone with information about the vandalism to call 225-5118. Callers can remain anonymous.