Classmates watch in horror as student sets himself ablaze in Colorado high school cafeteria
6:25 AM, Jan 28, 2014
WESTMINSTER, Colo. -
Westminster Police say a 16-year-old boy who walked into the cafeteria at Standley Lake High School early Monday, and set himself on fire, was trying to commit suicide.
Sixty students were in the cafeteria at the time and may have witnessed the horrific scene said Jefferson County Public Schools spokeswoman Lynn Setzer.
She said there were others in the hallway who also may have seen the incident through windows.
Sources say the teenager was burned over 80 percent of his body and is in critical condition at a local hospital.
Investigators spent most of the day Monday interviewing witnesses and the teenager's friends to try to find out why he set himself ablaze.
They're also focusing on messages the boy posted on his Facebook page and one sent out via his cellphone.
When asked if the boy intended to harm anyone else, Westminster Police spokeswoman Cheri Spottke replied, "We have no evidence of that."
After the boy used an accelerant to set himself ablaze, two school staffers grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the fire out, Spottke said. She said a cafeteria worker suffered minor cuts while breaking the glass to grab the extinguisher.
Police aren't releasing the victim's name, but several friends have posted the message, "Pray for Vince," on their Facebook pages.
The father of one of those friends told 7NEWS that his son witnessed the incident and was left traumatized.
"He's been shaking all day long," the father said.
The father added that the 16-year-old had been to their house before.
"He'd spent the night here during sleepovers," he said.
The father added that they had no idea the teen was struggling emotionally.
Neither did the boy's neighbor.
"I've seen the boy," said Chuck Monteen. "I've shaken his hand. I've watched him play in the yard with his siblings and his friends. He was never very talkative but was always polite. And it just surprises me that this would happen."
After the fire, the school district cancelled classes for the rest of the day Monday and Tuesday.
Setzer said students will be allowed back into the school Tuesday to retrieve their belongings, and added that counselors will be on hand all day to help students cope with what happened.
"My heart breaks for him, for the students that saw it, for his parents, for everybody involved," said Shelley Chavez, who lives right next to the school. "It's heartbreaking for students to think life is so bad that they need to do that. They're crying for help somehow. Unfortunately, all of these other students are going to be crying for help because of seeing what they saw."
"We don't have any indication at this time that there is any threat against the school or any other school in Westminster," Spottke said. "We do believe this was a suicide attempt."
The school was evacuated following the incident.
An emergency notification went out to parents via phone or email.
Witnesses told 7NEWS that some students were still arriving at school when the incident occurred and were turned around. Chavez said she saw long lines of students in the snow, walking off campus, escorted by teachers.
Students who ride the bus were taken to nearby Wayne Carle Middle School, where they were picked up by their parents.
Students with cars were asked to drive home.
"It's concerning because we're seeing more and more of the incidents and you're never prepared," Spottke said. "It's very tragic and it's always a challenge for law enforcement because it's always changing. The response from us is always different depending on each situation."
When asked what the district takes away from this incident, Setzer said it's too early to think about that.
"Right now, we're focused on the kids," she said. "We want to make sure they're safe."
Firefighters remained on the scene for most of the morning, trying to clear the smoke.
Police investigators went through the entire school with police dogs, room-by-room and floor-by-floor, to make sure the school was safe and there were no devices in the rooms.