CMC, Claremont Police Investigating Arson on Campus

Last Saturday, we reported that multiple fires had been set around North Quad and Bauer Center in what Dean Mary Spellman deemed arson in an email to the CMC community on Saturday morning. As of Spellman’s email, the school was not prepared to release any additional information about the investigation. The Forum spoke with Detective Bureau Lieutenant Mike Ciszek of the Claremont Police Department (CPD) regarding the investigation. While a police report is not publicly available right now, Detective Ciszek informed us that “the evidence that we have is slim at this point. The video that we have,” which he said came from cameras in Appleby’s laundry room and Campus Safety cameras located around campus, “is not the greatest video,” and “there’s no witnesses to anything.”

However, Detective Ciszek said that based on the video footage, which is “shaky,” the suspected arsonist “looks like it’s a skinny white male.” He encourages any students who may have seen someone fitting this description around the time of the fires to report it to CMC’s Office of Investigations, headed by Marcie Gardner, and the CPD. Detective Ciszek added that while “we’ve got very minimal leads, we’ve got some evidence we need to process through our labs,” and they are hoping that greater publicity around the incidents and the investigation will reach people who “may have seen something” that could contribute to their search.

One issue that multiple students who were at Appleby when it was evacuated described to The Forum was that the dorm’s fire extinguishers were inaccessible to the Resident Assistants responding to the situation that night. Eric Vos, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life, works directly with the RAs, and explained to us that the various fire extinguishers around campus are supposed to be accessible to anyone, not just RAs, in the case of an emergency.

The mechanism for accessing the North Quad extinguishers, Dean Vos explained, entailed breaking a sheet of glass in order to open the wall-mounted container holding the extinguisher. However, when the responding RAs attempted to access the North Quad extinguishers that night, the glass panel would not break, and they could not access the fire extinguishers. In response to this issue, Dean Vos said that the glass panels have been removed from the boxes holding the North Quad fire extinguishers, so that one need only reach through an opening to access the container, and need not break glass in order to do so.

While students primarily noticed the fires in Appleby on Friday night (technically, early in the morning on Saturday, around 3 a.m.) since the dorm was evacuated once the fire alarm went off, there were five fires in total set on campus. Only two of the fires were in Appleby. Marcie Gardner, CMC’s Assistant Vice President for Investigations, explained the incidents in more detail in an email to The Forum.

Of the two fires set in Appleby, Gardner said that one of them “was set to a trashcan on Appleby’s second floor and melted the trash can and damaged the hanging blinds in the window” behind it. There is are also large scorch marks visible on the canopy of the balcony just above where the fire burned. The second Appleby fire was inside of a dryer in the laundry room, which “destroyed the dryer,” she said. Regarding the other fires, she told us a third “was set on the first floor of Green Hall between two rooms,” which “damaged a chair and flag.” The fourth and fifth were small fires near Bauer Center, which “caused negligible damage to the interior of a cement trashcan and to a small patch of bushes at the base of a tree.”

Gardner also explained that the investigation into the incidents is being jointly conducted by CMC’s Office of Investigations and the CPD. “Detective [Hector] Tamayo is spearheading the law enforcement investigation for the Claremont Police Department,” Gardner told us, “and the Los Angeles County Fire Department was also involved in the initial investigation.”

While no additional information has been directly released to the community since Dean Spellman’s initial email, Gardner noted that “CMC intends to keep the student body informed as concrete information develops.”