Local 'ninja' teens arrested

and Anita Burke


Three teen members of a self-proclaimed "ninja" group face felony charges after their months-long spree of nighttime pranks morphed into serious criminal activity, police say.

Three boys who graduated to burglary after skulking across rooftops and ghosting through people's yards at night were taken into custody Tuesday night. Two 15-year-old boys and one 16-year-old boy, all of Rogue River, were lodged in the Jackson County Juvenile Detention Center and face multiple charges of felony burglary, theft and vandalism, said Rogue River Police Chief Ken Lewis.

"I think they watched too many Jackie Chan movies and got caught up in the fantasy," Lewis said.

In the past two weeks, police have responded to a rash of calls, including six car break-ins, three home burglaries and several thefts. In each of the burglaries, the residents were either away on vacation or temporarily out of the residence, Lewis said.

During Tuesday's arrest, Lewis said police recovered jewelry that had been reported stolen along with burglary tools, a map of the city and several black "ninja" suits complete with hoods and climbing spikes.

"We had to get it stopped. It was getting too serious. So we kicked in our afterburners and solved the case," said Lewis.

Police became aware that local youths were involved in the dangerous nocturnal antics early this year when a Grants Pass man called to say his son had friends in Rogue River who were dressing in black costumes, sneaking around at night, and climbing on things. Lewis advised the anonymous caller that such activities were dangerous and possibly illegal.

Over the past several months, the short-staffed police department has been plagued by calls about the escapades of the so-called ninjas, said Lewis. Lawn ornaments were removed, wooden sculptures blockaded a driveway, paint cans were tipped over, and black-clad figures were seen on rooftops and in trees.

"In one incident, the word 'ninja' was burned into a man's yard with bleach," said Lewis. "But I don't think anybody saw them committing crimes."

Lewis said the four-person police department is currently unable to patrol around the clock. Most of the calls came in very late at night or in the early hours of the morning.

In June, shortly before high school graduation, Officer Robert Buren almost captured one of the so-called ninjas who had climbed up on a rooftop at Rogue River High School and was throwing debris down at a school security officer. Buren climbed up and gave chase, nearly capturing the suspect by an air-conditioning unit.

"But the kid took off at full speed, running to the edge of the building," said Lewis. "Then he jumped off into space, hit a tree, broke branches all the way down to the ground, where he gave out a yelp of pain and then melted away into the night."

Lewis said the teens have a MySpace page posted at: /rr_ninja, which details their activities and interests.

"There's a video of one of the ninjas dropping out of a tree just like a cat," said Lewis.

School officials knew about the rooftop antics, said Rogue River High School Principal Jesse Pershin. But no one was identified, and they were unaware of any ninja-wannabees at the school, he said.

"We'll have to take a look at that Web site," Pershin said.

Local youths were already blogging on the MySpace page about the ninjas' arrest, said Lewis.

"The kids in the community are buzzing," said Lewis. "I suspect more of these ninjas will be identified."

Although he expects to find more members of the group, Lewis said the three boys arrested Tuesday appear to be the ring leaders. They face multiple charges of first-degree burglary, first-degree theft, first-degree criminal mischief and unauthorized entry into a vehicle, Lewis said.

"Frankly, they're very lucky an overzealous homeowner didn't shoot them," he said.

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