16-year-old arrested in school fire

A fire in a boys rest room at Monticello’s Washington Elementary School last week forced the evacuation of about 350 elementary and 125 high school students from the building at about 12:30 p.m.

There was some minor damage, but no injuries.

This past Monday, a 16-year old Monticello High School student was arrested in connection with the fire, according to Monticello Police officials.

In a press release, Monticello Police Chief Michael Galloway said he expected the high school boy to be charged with aggravated arson. He also “commended school officials” for their help in the investigation, and the two officers assigned to the case, whom he said “did a great job putting the pieces together.”

Monticello Superintendent Vic Zimmerman added the student had also been suspended from school, and "could also face additional disciplinary action."

Last Thursday, Jan. 31. Monticello Fire and Rescue personnel were able to put out the fire with hand-held extinguishers, but not before it damaged the ceiling of the bathroom, a light fixture, and caused some possible smoke damage in a room across the hall.

Fire officials had expressed the feeling the fire was intentionally set, and Monticello Police began investigating.

“When we got here, there was soot all over the floor,” said Fire Chief Rick Dubson. “When we opened the door, smoke just rolled out and across the hallway.”

Windows were opened and fans brought in to draw smoke out of the school. The 350 elementary school students who had been taken to a high school gym were able to return to their classrooms by 1:30 p.m., but high schoolers who use six classrooms in an hallway near the bathroom were not allowed to use those rooms the remainder of the school day.

The high school and Washington schools are on the same campus at Monticello.

Dubson said the fire apparently started in the toilet paper dispenser of the one of the bathroom stalls, burnt the plastic enclosure and a light fixture, and spread soot throughout the room. Soot also spread to some of the duct work, and there was also some water damage in the bathroom.

He also stated his belief that “this was not accidental.”

School officials sent out a phone message to parents through its School Messenger service.

A fire alarm alerted staff to the fire.

“We evacuated all kids outside, then when we found there was a fire, moved them to Moore Gym at the high school,” said Superintendent Vic Zimmerman. He said the restroom is in the south hallway of Washington Elementary, but is used primarily by high school students who use the classrooms nearby.

Professional cleaning crews were called, and both elementary and high school students were able to use the classrooms by Friday.


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