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Crime & Courts

Anchorage teens arrested in school playground fire

  • Author: Jerzy Shedlock
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published October 30, 2013

Anchorage police have arrested two teens for an arson fire set Friday at College Gate Elementary. The two boys, identified as seventh graders, allegedly caused an estimated $30,000 of damage to the school's playground.

The 13-year-old and 14-year-old were not named by police, as they are juveniles and state law protects non-adult criminals from identification in the media. They now face felony charges for damaging school property, said police spokesperson Jennifer Castro.

An Anchorage Police Department school resource officer found out who started the playground fire with the help of another student, Castro said in a press release. The boys were arrested Wednesday, charged and released to their parents.

Each boy was charged with one count of arson and another count of third-degree mischief, a misdemeanor.

Police say a passerby reported the fire at 7:36 p.m. on Friday. The Anchorage Fire Department responded and reportedly extinguished the fire within four minutes of arrival. But the damage was already done; the heat from the fire had melted the rubber matting on the playground.

The damages will cost the district an estimated $30,000.

Every dollar used to repair vandalism damages is directed away from the classroom, said Anchorage School District spokesperson Heidi Embley. And unfortunately, playground fires are not that rare, she said. The district typically sees at least one attempted playground fire each year.

The College Gate arson is the second playground fire this year, however. There was a small blaze on July 4 at Wonder Park Elementary School. The damage of that fire was an estimated $7,000, Embley said. Prior to this summer, the largest playground fire occurred at Fairview Elementary in 2011.

ASD fortunately experienced less vandalism of all kinds this summer, she said. The most common type of deliberate destruction to schools is graffiti, and the perpetrators are typically kids.

Those youngsters' parents often must foot the bills for adolescent criminal behaviors. The district seeks full restitution for damages caused by vandalism. When the vandals happen to be minors, the responsibility of payment falls to the responsible kids' guardians.

"In the case of College Gate, that is $30,000 the district will seek in reimbursement," Embley said.

It was just earlier Wednesday morning that police and the fire department were asking for the public's help in finding the arsonists, not only in the playground incident but another arson that occurred last month.

On September 24, the fire department deployed 11 response vehicles to a Jewel Lake-area fire involving a small trailer and a shed. Despite firefighters' quick response, the shed was a complete loss. An initial investigation was conducted, but the department recently reclassified the fire's cause as incendiary due to new info. Now, the incident is classified as an arson, though officials say it's not connected to any other arson cases.

More recently, someone attempted to set a Cash Alaska ablaze in the Fairview neighborhood on October 21. A male subject seen leaving the scene has been identified as the suspect, while a female witness was also spotted on surveillance footage. Investigators say they would like to speak to the woman about the fire.

People with information on either of these fires can call the arson hotline at 907-267-5060 or remain confidential by calling Crime Stoppers at 907-561-STOP.

Contact Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at) Follow him on Twitter @jerzyms.

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