A 17-year-old Thunder Basin High School student currently faces felony first-degree arson charges after he allegedly started a fire in the second floor bathroom of the school.
The fire alarm notification was received by dispatch just before 4 p.m. Sept. 30, prompting the evacuation of between 300 and 400 students and staff in the building at the time, according to court documents.
The first officer on scene was told by those evacuating that the fire was on the second floor. Fire crews located the fire in the men’s bathroom between three upstairs hallways.
After extinguishing the fire, crews spent several hours working to clear the heavy smoke in the bathroom and hallways.
According to the affidavit of probable cause, fire investigators and Gillette Police detectives were able to determine the fire started in the handicap stall of the men’s bathroom. Both toilet paper rolls and the plastic toilet paper container were completely burned.
School staff was able to pull surveillance footage from the hallway and identified the 17-year-old and could see he was the only person, other than a custodian, who was seen entering or leaving he bathroom.
Court documents state smoke could be seen billowing from the bathroom door approximately 10 minutes after the teen was seen exiting the restroom.
Two members of the custodial staff attempted to extinguish the fire, but were driven back by heavy smoke. They were later evaluated by emergency medical staff for smoke inhalation.
Officers made contact with the teen’s mother, who reported he was at a friend’s house. She told officers her son was in the library at the time of the fire.
The teen was unwilling to meet officers in person, however they did speak to him on the telephone. He allegedly told officers he went from class to his history teacher’s room and then to the library, according to court documents. After leaving the library, he got his jacket from his locker and left the school.
The teen didn’t initially answer when asked about going to that specific bathroom. He eventually admitted to officers he had been in the bathroom, but only to use the facilities. He also allegedly admitted to being the only one in the bathroom after the custodian left.
The affidavit states he refused to tell officers where he was and hung up.
He later agreed to meet officers at his home, but was first located in his vehicle and arrested without incident.
The teen is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Campbell County Circuit Court Thursday, Oct. 10, where he may be charged as an adult.
First-degree arson is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.