San Juan High School burns; two in custody for arson

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BLANDING, San Juan County — A suspected arson gutted the media center of San Juan High School early Saturday morning, causing extensive damage.

Two Blanding men have been arrested in connection with the suspected arson and a rash of recent burglaries at the high school and nearby middle school. The suspects were identified as Deven W. White, 19, and Christopher Stolzer, 22, according to the San Juan County Sheriff's Office. Both are former students of San Juan High School, although deputies said the motive for the alleged offenses has not been established.

"Certainly, no matter who it is, it's a tragedy," San Juan School District Superintendent Douglas Wright said. "We're very disappointed that anyone would feel the need to burn down a school library or attempt to burn down an entire school."

Wright said classes would not be held Monday or Tuesday. The school will be closed for Thanksgiving recess the remainder of the week.

Merri Shumway of Blanding, a member of the San Juan School District school board and a graduate of the high school, said she toured the damaged school Saturday. The fire damage was largely confined to the school library but four classrooms sustained smoke damage. That section of the school will be walled off while repairs are made, she said.

"It's just kind of an unbelievable thing to happen in our small town, but it did," she said.

"The whole town feels violated."

The school district plans to resume classes on Monday, Nov. 26, utilizing a former LDS Seminary building the school district purchased a few years ago as well as unused space in an applied technology center, she said.

Shumway said the suspects were high school classmates of her daughters, which was troubling.

"How could (former students) who had received so much from our high school turn around and set fire to it?" Shumway said.

While the suspected arson was a blow to the town, Shumway said she was heartened by the community's response, such as the signs community members had placed in front of the building that said "San Juan Pride" and "We ♥ our school."

"People are quite attached to this school. Most people here graduated from here."

Wright said no one was in the school when the fire broke out at approximately 4 a.m., Saturday, although it was in use Friday night for the presentation of a drama production.

The fire, which had spread through the roof system, burned about two hours before it could be extinguished, a press release from Sheriff Rick Eldredge said.

The fire caused an estimated $500,000 in damage, according to Blanding Police Chief Lyle Bayles.

There have been five burglaries at the high school and Albert R. Lyman Middle School in recent weeks, deputies said. Evidence connects the two suspects to the thefts, according to the sheriff's office.

Wright said the media center and its contents — books, computers, printers, furniture — are a total loss. Damage estimates were not yet available.

About 400 students attend the high school. "We have some space to make it work," Wright said.

Contributing: Sandra Yi


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