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Jefferson High School 'prank' could have started a fire, authorities say

April 21, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- When 15 students entered Jefferson High School on March 30, a teacher's grade book put in a microwave could have started a fire in the school, officials said at a press conference Monday morning.

The microwave was turned on and some pages in the grade book were burned, Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober said. Boober and Pete Dougherty, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, said all information about the break-in has been turned over to the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's office.

As a result of the students' actions, Jefferson County Schools was the "victim of a crime" and school officials are cooperating with authorities about possible criminal charges in the incident, said Dougherty.

The break-in at the school north of Charles Town was part of a senior prank, but the incident went too far, school officials have said.

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Some parents of the students involved were upset because the students possibly were facing charges. The parents said such action could hurt the futures of the kids.

Dougherty, who held Monday's press conference at the board of education office along with Boober, said he and others decided to hold the press conference because officials have been getting many questions from people about how they plan to proceed in the matter.

Despite concerns from parents that school officials might be reacting too harshly to the break-in, Dougherty remained firm Monday about his concerns about the incident.

"No one in the school system takes any pleasure in the events to date. But as the victim of a crime, this school system -- and as a representative of the citizens and the taxpayers -- we intend to fully cooperate with law enforcement authorities," Dougherty said.

Dougherty said the break-in has been investigated by police and "all reports have concluded that a crime or that crimes were committed."

While no charges had been filed as of Monday, Boober and Dougherty talked about issues such as destruction of property and an "illegal break-in at the school."

Assistant Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Groh, who is working on the case, said Monday it could be next week before he takes any possible action.

The 15 students received 10-day suspensions and school officials said previously that some of the students could be expelled for the rest of the year. Dougherty said Monday that the school system will take no further action against the students and will turn the matter over to law enforcement.

School officials believe two students at Shepherd University also were involved in the break-in, but Boober said investigators are still trying to determine their identities.

The break-in at the school along Flowing Springs Road north of Charles Town occurred about 11 p.m. March 30, official said.

It appears a couple individuals entered the school through a hatch in the roof and let the rest of the group inside through a door, Boober said.

Boober said pages in the grade book caught fire inside the microwave but it appears a lack of air choked out the flames.

The microwave was in a lounge, Dougherty said.

The students also dragged 600 desks into hallways, hid 31 telephones, wrote inappropriate comments in Spanish on chalkboards and discharged a fire extinguisher, school officials said.

Some students wore masks and hoods to hide their identities, although police were able to get images of them off security cameras before the devices were covered, officials said.

Floors were scratched after school workers completed a "100 percent cleanup" in preparation of a dedication ceremony for the newly renovated school, Boober said.

Dougherty and Boober declined to say what the inappropriate comments were on blackboards.

School officials said the students hid the 31 telephones in ceiling tiles and there was concern that not all the phones had been found.

All the phones have been accounted for, Boober said Monday.

Although the school system's alarm system did not work as designed when the break-in occurred, it might have been a blessing because the situation could have been worse if police arrived and saw masked and hooded people inside, Dougherty said.

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