(CNN) — When the Ashburn Colored School opened in 1892, the single-room schoolhouse offered black children in northern Virginia a rare opportunity to receive an education, offering classes during the height of segregation for more than six decades.
For the past two years, local students had tirelessly worked to convert the aging wooden structure into a museum.
Over the weekend, the shuttered schoolhouse, a longstanding remainder of institutionalized discrimination outside Washington D.C., was defaced by vandals who spray-painted swastikas, drawings of genitals and other derogatory messages on its walls.
Authorities discovered “racist messages” Saturday that covered much of the building’s walls. Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman pledged to investigate the incident and work with school officials to track down the vandals.
“The vandalism to the Ashburn Old School is reprehensible and will not be tolerated here,” Chapman said.
Dr. Deep Sran, founder of the Loudoun School for the Gifted, likened the vandalism to the discrimination the school’s former students faced.
“They get jeered at, laughed at, by the white kids in their school, then they’d come here,” Sran told CNN affiliate WJLA.
Two years ago, students at the Loudoun School for the Gifted decided to raise $100,000 in an effort to open an educational museum that in part focused on the history of racial segregation in the school system. They had raised nearly a quarter of those funds.
On the Ashburn Old School Rehabilitation Facebook page, students wrote they were “heartbroken about this senseless act” but vowed to move ahead with renovations.
“With all the hate that was put onto the schoolhouse, it was absolutely devastating for me,” Taz Foreman, a seventh-grader involved in the restoration effort, told the affiliate.
Sran said a crime that took all of 20 minutes undermined six months’ worth of restoration efforts. Nevertheless, he said, the Virginia school, located 35 miles outside of Washington D.C., would do “whatever it takes” to save the shuttered schoolhouse.
“Now is the time for our county to rise above retaliation or revenge,” said Phyllis J. Randall, chairwoman of the Loudoun County board of supervisors.
“… As a county, we will send a message that this behavior is neither welcomed or tolerated in Loudoun. This is not Loudoun,” she said in a statement.
Authorities have offered up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and indictment of those behind the vandalism.