Students return to class following school fire

March 25, 2011 10:14:02 AM PDT
Hamilton Middle School reopened this morning just one day after an arsonist set fire to an auditorium and a computer lab. Teachers and staff welcomed students at Hamilton middle school back to class today. Students had an unexpected day off Thursday after police say one of their classmates broke into the building and set two fires, a small blaze in the auditorium and another one that destroyed a third floor computer lab. Police found the girl inside the school.

"I'm glad she was caught," said concerned parent Gabriel Gonzalez. "I hope that everything is OK inside the school and they have a normal day."

After hours of cleanup yesterday, HISD says an indoor air quality test indicated students were safe to return. HISD says areas near the fire are now closed off to students and fans are being used to ventilate after repairs die to the fire.

"I just hope everything is good in there," said parent Jaine Reyes. "The kids can concentrate more on their work than what happened."

But even with the 'all clear,' some parents say they can't help but worry.

"I don't know if she is going to start another fire. Who knows? Hopefully she will be monitored," said Gonzalez.

"What was thinking when she set the school on fire? What were her thoughts and her intentions when she set the school on fire?" asked another concerned parent.

Investigators have not given a motive for the fire. The girl has been charged with arson and is in the County Juvenile Detention Center.

HISD would not would no speak specifically about this incident but says in cases like these the student is typically given a three-day suspension. The district says during that time either transferred to an alternative school or receives schooling in the detention center.

Crews will work overnight and through the weekend to completely restore the auditorium and classroom by Monday.

School canceled yesterday

Even with the class bell ringing Thursday, one after another, parents dropping off their children were flagged down and told there was no school. It was a bit shocking for some, but even more shocking when parents found out why school was closed.

Police say a Hamilton Middle School student broke into the building around 2:30am and HISD police were alerted to a burglar alarm that was immediately followed by a fire alarm. Firefighters responded to the middle school on West 20th and Harvard around 3am. Firefighters were able to put out the fires within 30 to 45 minutes.

"HISD Police Department did respond immediately and did find a female student in the building and noticed at that time that there were two areas where fires were started," said Hamilton Middle School Principal Roger Bunnell.

"It's terrible that someone like a kid would do that to a school," said parent Tammy Cruz.

HISD says one of the fires was set in the auditorium on the second floor and another in a computer lab on the third floor. The district says almost 40 fairly new computers and some school acoustic guitars stored in the room were destroyed.

"Looking at the room, it almost brings you to tears," said Principal Bunnell.

He says he spoke to the student before she was taken into custody.

"When she saw me, she said, 'I'm so sorry, Mr. Bunnell. I'm so sorry.' There are some other issues that were going on with the female student, none of it having to relate to Hamilton Middle School," Principal Bunnell said.

One student we spoke with worries about his school work destroyed in the fire overnight.

"We can't do our projects anymore and it's really bad," said 13-year-old student Kosta Vastakis.

Hamilton was closed Thursday, meaning Kosta and his sister enjoyed lunch with their mom. They're all trying to understand why their schoool was the alleged target of arson.

"No offense but why would anyone set our school on fire? What does it accomplish?" asked 12-year-old Zoe Vastakis.

While the kids enjoyed their day off from school, their mother worries about the student now charged with arson.

"I'm glad no one was hurt and school was closed when it happened. But I'm worried why someone would be out and break into a school at two in the morning and set not just one fire but two," said parent Anne Vastakis.

Other parents are equally concerned.

"If she could do something like that to the school, she could hurt herself or hurt someone else," said Cruz.

The student, who's a minor so she can't be identified, has been charged with arson and transferred to the County Juvenile Detention Center.

Meanwhile, Carlos Quiroz is ready to get back to class. His father is too.

"I'd like to send my boys back to school. I hope everything goes better," Armando Quiroz said.

The female student is charged with arson. She was taken to the county juvenile center.