By Victoria Landers
After three cases of arson in Texas Tech residences halls put the campus on alert, police have caught one suspect but are still struggling to identify those responsible for other cases.
A student found responsible for a case of arson on the fourth floor of Gates Hall, which was reported to the Texas Tech Police Department on April 15, was charged and expelled from the university, said Capt. Stephen Hinkle. In that case of arson, paper signs had been set aflame on the exterior of a room’s door.
However, two more recent cases in Weymouth Hall, which presented similar but unrelated incidences of arson, remain unresolved.
On May 2, a Tech police officer was dispatched to the fourth floor of Weymouth Hall to investigate damaged property when a community advisor noticed a student’s dorm door was on fire. The fire was extinguished quickly and no one was injured.
A day later, an officer was again dispatched to Weymouth Hall after a CA reported a paper decoration affixed to an occupant’s door on the fifth floor. Another CA reported there was also a partially burned poster in the hallway of the fourth floor.
On May 4, representatives of the Texas Tech Fire Marshal’s office and Student Housing did a walk-through of Weymouth Hall and found two additional dorm rooms that sustained minor damage due to paper decorations on the exterior of the door being burned.
Each case was classified as arson. Hinkle said there was nothing in particular on the decorations and signs to cause authorities to believe this was a hate crime.
“When people think of arson, they think of a really big fire or somebody trying to burn down a building, which was not the case at all here,” Hinkle said. “We think it was probably either students playing a prank or just students messing with each other.”
Such things have happened before but few of them are reported.
“Most of the occurrences that have happened in years past hadn’t been reported to us,” Hinkle said. “The student would come out and see it and just be like ‘Knock it off, you’re going to get in trouble.’ They’re finally starting to report it now, which they need to.”
The fire marshal’s recommended removing all paper from the doors of the dorm rooms.
“As far as the police department is concerned, we’ve had several meetings with Housing, and we are also increasing our patrol activity in the dorms,” Hinkle said. “And of course, we’re encouraging the CAs to keep an eye out because they’re there a lot more than we are.”
No one was injured in the incidents, and the total value of damaged property was estimated to be between $25 and $50 for each occurrence. However, both the Tech police department and the university are taking the issue seriously and investigations are still being conducted.
Chris Cook, managing director of the Office of Communications & Marketing. said in an email: “I can tell you this is a serious offense. It obviously places unsuspecting students in a dangerous situation. All students are advised to report any suspicious or out-of-the-ordinary behavior to residence hall staff and/or Tech PD.”
Anyone who has information on these incidents is strongly encouraged to contact the Tech Police Department at 806-743-2000 or the Crime Line at 806-741-1000.