Juvenile charged with arson in John Essex fire

Published 11:50 am Saturday, September 5, 2009

A 17-year-old John Essex student was arrested Tuesday and charged with arson (first degree) in connection to a fire at the school last month.

”I am awfully glad to know that there is some closure to it,” John Essex principal Loretta McCoy said of the arrest, “but my heart is saddened to know that someone would do it at all at this school.”

Officials with the Alabama state fire marshal’s office determined the youth, whose name was not released due to his age, intentionally set an Aug. 14 fire, which caused minor damage to the school.

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Demopolis firefighters answered a call at John Essex High School at approximately 2:55 p.m. and extinguished the blaze.

The blaze in question was reportedly set in the boys’ bathroom on the high school hall. The building was occupied with faculty and other students at the time, but no injuries were reported.

“I love these kids, and I want the parents to know that I’m going to keep them safe,” McCoy said.

As investigators began working on their case, they uncovered more evidence linking the young man to two other instances at the school.

“During the course of this investigation, further evidence was collected that linked the same juvenile suspect with two other crimes which recently occurred at the school,” said Stephen Holmes, public information officer for the state fire marshal’s office. “A bomb threat which occurred in February and another fire which was set (Monday) also at the school. The most recent incident reportedly took place in Room 19, the science room on the high school hall. That fire is one of three that have been set on the campus this semester.”

“The students have been very quiet,” McCoy said. “I think that the students feel sort of like I feel. We love John Essex and we want to keep each other safe. It’s sort of unbelievable that this could happen here.”

McCoy and the JEHS staff also discovered a fire on the morning of Aug. 17 in which the external doors to the elementary school side, located on the west end of the school, had been set ablaze. There is no word whether that incident is linked to the same suspect.