Police arrested two juniors and a senior, all males, April 11 for their involvement in the arson last Friday and another arson case at White Flint neighborhood park March 20.
Police charged 19-year-old senior Wyatt Dentel as an adult with assistance in the Whitman arson, according to the automated fire marshal investigators’ media line. He is currently held at the Montgomery County correctional facility.
In addition, police charged the two 17-year-old juniors with second degree arson, first degree malicious burning and malicious destruction of property for both the April 8 Whitman arson and the White Flint neighborhood park fire. The juveniles’ detainment has yet to be determined.
Dentel was also charged as an adult with second degree arson, first degree malicious burning and malicious destruction of property for the White Flint neighborhood park fire.
Montgomery County fire marshal investigators, security camera footage, tips from students and other evidence helped the administration identify the three Whitman students.
“We are happy to have identified the perpetrators and have a sense of relief that we can now move on to more positive things,” principal Alan Goodwin said.
At around 11:45 p.m. Friday night, the three students used a rock to break a window in art teacher Nancy Mornini’s room. They then poured gasoline into the classroom and ignited the gasoline. The sprinkler system immediately doused the fire but left up to four inches of water in neighboring classrooms. Some damaged classrooms will be ready for students by Wednesday, while others won’t be ready until after spring break.
The fire rendered some classrooms and hallways inaccessible to students for the next few days as work crews continue to dry floors and make repairs to damaged rooms.
The incident cost the school around $50,000, Scott Graham, Assistant Chief of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, told the Gazette.
Goodwin administered the harshest punishment a principal can give to the students, he said.
The maximum punishment that administrators can give is a ten day suspension and a recommendation for expulsion, according to MCPS policy.
“This is the most serious incident I’ve experienced while an administrator in the past 12 years,” Goodwin said. “And I’d like to not have any more incidents.”
While the fire was not major, there was significant water damage to Mornini’s room and business teacher Demitra Marafatsos’ room, Goodwin said. Some classroom walls will need to be repainted, and some computers, printers and other electronics will need replacement. Fans are in the hallways to remove water and dry floors, and some classes will be relocated to other rooms.
Mornini lost all the commercial art pieces for this year’s Festival of the Arts, all the best student work from her years at Whitman, pictures and mementos of students on her desk and all her lesson plans in the fire and ensuing water damage.
“In the grand scheme of the school, the damage is really minor,” Mornini said. “But in my room, for me personally, it was a lot.”
Water from Mornini’s room drained down to Marafatsos’ room, where the bottom of one wall was removed to allow fans access to dry out the floor. Social studies teacher Wendy Eagan also lost student work in a social studies storage closet.
Mornini plans to relocate classes to other rooms for this week, and will work on new plans for Festival of the Arts, which opens May 25.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Mornini said. “I think we will rally and do some stuff for Festival of the Arts, but it won’t be the same.”
Work crews responded quickly to repair the damage, and the investigation is ongoing, Goodwin said.
“Everybody has been really helpful: the fire department, the PTSA, the police,” he said. “The good side of the story is that all the resources came together to help.”
Below is a list of classroom relocations for this week:
Emergency Classroom Changes
Social studies teacher Peter Kenah: periods 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 (media center)
Art teacher Nancy Mornini: period 1 (C232), period 2 (C130), period 3 (D218), periods 5, 7 (C237)
Business teacher Demitra Marafatsos: periods 2, 3, 4 (C315)
Social studies teacher Ariel Wolsztejn: all periods (TV Studio)
Voices of sophomore Helen Rosenthal and art teacher Nancy Mornini
Reporting by Katie Guarino and Justine Wood
Edited by Josh Loock