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Teen's arrest is a shock to his friends

Those who know the teen accused of vandalizing the Virgin Mary building say he has never been destructive.

By CHRIS TISCH
Published May 12, 2004

CLEARWATER - As Kyle Maskell made his first appearance in court Tuesday, those who know him found it hard to believe that someone so kind and gentle could destroy an image thousands venerate as divine.

"I would never expect Kyle to get in this type of trouble," said Cecilia Colbert, Maskell's guidance counselor at Oak Grove Middle School in Clearwater.

Maskell, 18, was charged Monday with criminal mischief in the vandalism of the Virgin Mary building on U.S. 19. He remained at the Pinellas County Jail on Tuesday night in lieu of $10,000 bail.

At his hearing, a judge appointed the public defender's office to represent Maskell. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf.

Colbert, now retired, said Maskell often spoke to her about his problems while he attended the middle school. He was living in a foster home in Clearwater that had multiple foster kids at any given time.

Maskell is learning disabled, so school was challenging. At age 18, he was still a high school sophomore.

"School is hard for him, and he didn't have a parent who would sit down with him and help him with his homework," Colbert said.

Still, Maskell was kind and gentle, she said.

"I just adored this kid. He's got the biggest heart in the world. He's more on the reserved side rather than outgoing," she said. "There's absolutely nothing in his heart that would make him say, "I'm going to go out and break glass tonight."'

While in middle school, Maskell was recruited to join the ROTC at Clearwater High. That's where he met Rick Vallejo.

"Kyle would be like a brother to me," Vallejo said.

Maskell turned 18 in December and severed ties with foster care. He moved in with Vallejo and Vallejo's mother earlier this year.

"He was tired of living under someone's roof," Vallejo said. "He wanted to be on his own."

Vallejo said Maskell talked a little of his troubles growing up but kept much inside. "He basically kept most of his feelings to himself," he said.

Vallejo, an 18-year-old Clearwater High senior, still doesn't think his friend was really behind the vandalism, despite finding the smoking gun - actually, a slingshot - that led to Maskell's arrest.

On Sunday, Vallejo was cleaning out the bedroom Maskell used while staying at his house. He found a slingshot under the bed and another in a dresser drawer. He also found a container of steel marbles next to the dresser. Inside Maskell's journal were newspaper clippings about the vandalism of the office windows that many believe depict the Virgin Mary.

Vallejo took the items to a teacher Monday morning. Police pulled Maskell from class, and they say he admitted to breaking the windows on a night when he was bored, angry and unable to sleep.

Maskell was staying overnight at another friend's house the night the windows were vandalized. The windows, which believers say depict a figure of the Virgin Mary, have drawn thousands of people to Clearwater.

Police said Maskell couldn't sleep the night of Feb. 29, so he headed outside with his slingshot. Though police say he was looking to break something to vent his anger, they say it was only coincidence that he ended up in front of Clearwater's most famous panes of glass.

Police said he fired three to four steel marbles into the glass, cracking them. Over the next few hours, the glass fell apart chunk by chunk.

"I don't know why he would do this," Vallejo said. "He's never destroyed anything. I think it was more of an attention-grabber thing."

Vallejo said Maskell had one specific dream: to graduate from high school and join the U.S. Marine Corps.

"With this on his record, I don't think he'll be able to," Vallejo said. "It just kind of shatters his dream."

- Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or tisch@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 12, 2004, 01:54:10]


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