HEMPSTEAD, Texas -- The mechanic working outside the garage reached under the hood of the yellow school bus and pulled out a couple of black hoses, ripped and sliced by vandals.

These are the brake lines on the bus, brake hoses, Eddie Brown said. They was cut. You can see right there. And they also cut the ABS wires, right there. Brown shook his head as he looked at the damage. I hate it, he said. I feel sorry for the people that did it, you know. It just don t make no sense. These are our little kids. We got to protect them.

Hempstead is a quiet country town where you don t expect to find much trouble, but a crime committed earlier this week has leaders of the town s school district worried. Somebody cut the brakes lines on three school buses, two of which actually carried children around town before the potentially deadly damage was discovered.

Even more disturbing was what school officials found lying on the pavement in front of one of the buses.

A dead cat, said Floyd Richards, the operations director for the Hempstead ISD. And it appeared when we did the examination of the buses ... like they had rubbed it around on the engine, because there was a lot of cat fur.

Grainy images captured by surveillance cameras showed flashlights shining around the bus lot as three suspects climbed over a fence in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning.

The damage done to two of the buses wasn t discovered until after they had left on their morning rounds, carrying loads of children from their neighborhoods to their schools.

The brakes could ve locked up and there s no telling what could ve happened at that point, Robinson said, acknowledging that an accident could ve hurt or killed some schoolchildren.

Hempstead High School s mascot is a bobcat, so officials say they ve occasionally seen dead cats tossed onto school property. But they don t believe this latest incident was a random teenaged prank.

It appears that someone knew exactly what hoses to cut, exactly what damage they wanted to happen, said Gerald Robinson, Hempstead ISD s police chief.

The vandals also knew how to raise the hoods on school buses. Still, the tools they brought weren t exactly the best objects to cut those brake lines.

It wasn t cut with nothing sharp, because you can see the ridges, like either a pair of scissors or a hunting knife, Brown said. It wasn t nothing smooth that cut it.

Authorities hope someone who knows details about the crime will contact either school district officials or Hempstead police with information that will help capture the suspects.

The district s superintendant wondered aloud whether the vandalism might have been the work of angry citizens who attended a board meeting a few hours before the crime. Other school officials said they had no idea who might have cut the brake lines.

We ve had that before where kids maybe break a window or throw a rock, Richards said. And last year when some batteries were being stolen, we ve had some batteries taken out from our buses.

But never in our wildest dreams would we think anything like this would happen, especially endangering our children, he said.

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