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Man Charged With Trespassing After Taking Pictures Inside L.I. High School

HUNTINGTON STATION, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Major security changes were under way at a Long Island high school Tuesday evening, after police said an alum who claimed he was feeling nostalgic illegally entered the school in the middle of the night and snapped selfies on his cellphone.

As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, James Rankin, 35, a 1996 graduate of Walt Whitman High School, was spotted on surveillance video on campus taking photos around 3:50 a.m. this past Friday, 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera said.

After taking the pictures, Rankin drove away, police said. But he was later and charged with criminal trespassing.

“Being back in the building, he felt nostalgic. That was the information that we got (from police),” Walt Whitman Principal Kathleen Acker told Rivera. “That’s why he was there. He was excited to be in the building. He took selfies of himself, where he graduated from.”

Suffolk County police Lt. Michael O’Callaghan also said Rankin’s motives were “nostalgic” rather than “for nefarious reasons.”

At the time Rankin allegedly went in, the rear door of the school was unlocked and unsecured. Rankin is now a cab driver, and he parked his orange and white taxi at a nearby McDonald’s as he noticed a crack in the gym door and decided to take a trip down memory lane.

“I didn’t go in there to cause problems,” Rankin told McLogan. He said he just went in because the door was unlocked.

Speaking also to WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall, Rankin apologized that his actions might have left some parents feeling frightened about security on campus.

“For the parents, I’m sorry,” Rankin said. “It was a thoughtless thing that happened, and it didn’t cross my mind. I’m really sorry that they had to get scared and angry. I wasn’t in there to cause any trouble.”

Rankin said his intent was purely innocent, and also said he often takes selfies in unusual places. But walking the hallways of a closed school in the middle of the night is illegal.

Rankin’s every move during the 10-minute intrusion was caught on surveillance camera.

Acker said the door may have been left open by accident.

“We had a basketball game that evening, and if kids want to go to McDonald’s to get a snack and come back in, unfortunately, you know, they may have propped the door open.”

But parents were asking Tuesday, what if the trespasser had been armed with a device other than a cellphone.

“The fact the door was left open, and that somebody was able to walk in, is inexcusable,” one man said.

“There should be a crackdown whoever checks the doors,” another said.

“The school did a good job handling it,” a third man said. “My kids go to the elementary school there, and they made us aware right away.”

South Huntington Schools Supt. Dr. David Bennardo said security lapses will not be tolerated. Already, double locks are being installed along with perimeter checks.

“He came in through that door. What we know is he has been apprehended. What we know is that he was on our surveillance, and we want to find out how that happened,” Bennardo said.

Students at Walt Whitman High School were off for spring break Tuesday. But when they return next week, school officials said sweeping security changes will be in place.

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