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Intentionally Set Fire Wrecks Office at Educational Complex

Feb. 19, 2008 — Arsonists torched the office of the Academic High School at St. Croix Educational Complex early Tuesday morning, forcing the high school to close for the rest of the week or longer.
However, classes will resume for students enrolled at the Complex's Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC). All CTEC students are to report to school Wednesday at the regularly scheduled time.
The fire had already burned down to a smoldering heap when the first school staff arrived. V.I. Police Department spokeswoman Melody Rames, who was on the scene at 9 a.m., said a 911 call about the fire was recorded at 7:46 a.m.
Police and fire officials saw no sign of forced entry, suggesting either the door was accidentally left unlocked or the perpetrator had a key. The entire office was a mess at 9 a.m.: gutted, soot-covered and filled with ash and char.
Right behind the office — behind locked steel doors the perpetrators were unable to open — a back room was stacked floor-to-ceiling with brand-new Dell computers still in their boxes. They were not damaged.
There are some similarities to an incident a few weeks ago where some cars were burned behind the school, said St. Croix District Fire Marshal Alejandro Rivera.
"The last time they destroyed a pump room," Rivera said. "The steel doors were peeled back. It takes time to do that. But with enough time, you can break into almost anything. "
Asked if they had any immediate suspects, Rivera said they were in the midst of investigating and were keeping an open mind.
"We find it suspicious that the incidents happened soon after report cards were given," he said. "That is not proof of anything, and we are not ruling anything out or in, but it is suggestive."
St. Croix Administrator Pedro Encarnacion was on the scene Tuesday, speaking with school, fire and police officials.
"You can see here where they lit it and ran," Encarnacion said. "They poured the accelerant over the counters and on the desks, ran it out the door and lit it from there. Everything that isn't burnt is smoke-damaged. It's just a shame."
Sen. James Weber III happened by, too.
"I've known Principal (Kurt) Vialet for a long time," Weber said. "This is such a waste. It won't stop education, but it is going to be a pain. Accreditation is coming up in the next few months. I don't know this will affect it, but they don't need the stress right now. The worst, too, is seeing 13 years of school trophies charred. It's a shame Kurt and his team have to go through this."
Vialet was conferring with fire officials and coordinating his teachers and staff, but took a moment to speak to the press.
"There is a need for security in the place every night," he said. "We have cameras, but they don't stop people from getting in, and people cover their faces to hide from the camera. The end result of not having security is tens of thousands of dollars in damage."
Two cameras are mounted on the ceiling very near the door the perpetrators used to access the school office. At 10 a.m. Tuesday, police were dusting for prints on the door to the office, but had not yet gone over the camera footage. One officer noted the cameras may or may not be pointed at the door in question.
St. Croix Deputy School Superintendent Maria Encarnacion issued a statement Tuesday afternoon about the arson and its impact on school schedules.
"The district and school leadership have been meeting to assess the situation and what steps need to be taken to get our students back into school as quickly as possible," she said, asking for patience as the department deals with the unfortunate situation. "The insurance companies have been contacted, and we are currently in discussions with contractors, who are also assessing needs toward the expeditious rebuilding of the damaged facilities."
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