SINGAPORE - Using spray paint, they vandalised cars, walls and letter boxes.
In bright colours, they sprayed "O$P$", which stood for "Owe money, pay money", and peppered walls with profanities.
The four vandals are primary school pupils and when they went on their vandalism spree on Tuesday near Block 168C, Punggol Field Road, they were in their school uniforms.
Mr Benjamin Lei, who was visiting his mother-in-law living in the vicinity, spotted four boys behaving suspiciously.
Mr Lei, a 33-year-old sales executive, recounted: "When they saw me, they kept saying 'Quick, quick! Someone is here.'"
The boys walked past him briskly and avoided eye contact with him.
One of them said: "Hide the bottle."
Mr Lei heard a "clack clack clack" sound, which he later realised was the sound made by the ball bearing inside a spray can.
When they realised Mr Lei was on to them, the boys sprinted, but he caught up with them after about a 100m chase.
By then, he realised that the boys had vandalised several cars.
He called the police while holding on to the boys, who were aged between nine and 10.
Mr Lei, who is the father of a year-old boy, questioned them while waiting for police officers to arrive.
"They said they didn't do anything," recounted Mr Lei who had parked his car at the same multi-storey carpark.
"They brushed me off when I asked them what was in their bags," he added.
One of the four boys even tried to escape by telling Mr Lei that he needed to visit the washroom.
"I knew he was lying, so I told him to just pee on the spot if he really needed to," he said.
Mr Lei lectured them. He said: "I told them that they could have been jailed or caned if they were older. I hope they have learnt their lesson."
Police arrested the boys for suspected involvement in a case of vandalism.
Four vehicles, a bicycle, walls and letter boxes were vandalised, and investigations are ongoing.
Mr Lei said: "If I were the owner of the vandalised car, I would have wanted someone else to do something too.
"And I knew that if I didn't stop them, they might continue vandalising as they grow up or doing something worse."
Juvenile offenders can be caned
Yes, they may be young, but the law is tough on vandalism.
For adult offenders, caning is meted out to those convicted of damaging public property.
Although the four arrested are only children, the law does provide under the Children and Young Persons Act for the High Court to impose caning on juvenile offenders.
But criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam said the law will most likely look kindly at these boys because of age.
He said: "They will probably be charged in the Juvenile Court where they will have to be on probation or go through a guidance programme that requires them to go for counselling.
But they have to make sure not to repeat the offence."
Parents reacted with dismay that children were involved in the vandalism spree.
Madam Bernice Koh, 40, the parent of a 13-year-old girl, said: "It is worrying that these kids are already up to no good at such a young age. I hope they do not do this again.
"To spray paint something like O$P$ is really not good."
By the numbers
Number of juveniles (aged between seven and below 16) arrested
The youngest arrested for spraying O$P$ was a 12-year-old boy, in 2009.
This article was published on April 25 in The New Paper.
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