15-year-old accused in fire detained

URBANA – A judge ordered Wednesday that a teen-ager accused of setting fires at Urbana Middle School be detained pending juvenile court proceedings.

Judge Harry Clem ruled that there was probable cause for a juvenile charge of aggravated arson and ordered that a 15-year-old Urbana male be held at the Champaign County Youth Detention Center.

The youth is accused of setting fires knowing that people were in the building. He is due to return to court Oct. 11.

Assistant State's Attorney Lawrence Solava said in juvenile court that investigation by Urbana police indicates the teen, a freshman at Urbana High School, set the fires. The prosecutor said the youth initially denied involvement, but later admitted he set the fires.

Urbana firefighters responded to an alarm at Urbana Middle School, 1201 S. Vine St., at 6:54 p.m. Monday. Investigation showed several small fires had been intentionally set in the cafeteria area.

The fires set off sprinklers and fire alarms, according to Urbana school officials. The building was immediately evacuated and there were no injuries.

Teachers, staff and students were in the middle school for a basketball game.

Urbana Middle School principal Nancy Clinton said high school football team members were practicing adjacent to the middle school Monday after school when a storm swept through the area and the students sought shelter inside. Clinton said the 15-year-old apparently entered the school with team members.

Witnesses saw a young man, later identified as the 15-year-old male, walk in the gym, Solava said. He looked nervous and left after picking up a backpack, the prosecutor said.

Fire alarms then sounded. School officials initially believed the youth had pulled a fire alarm, but soon discovered there was a real fire, Solava said.

One student found a large lighter in the area where the youth had been seen and turned it over to staff, he said.

Another student told police that the youth had whispered a comment about setting fires, but that student did not believe him until the alarms sounded.

The 15-year-old was found by police and questioned, Solava said. He said he was in the school watching football tapes, but that was proven untrue.

He later admitted he had set the fires. The youth said he had gone into the kitchen looking for food, but could not find any, Solava said.

The teen said he found a large lighter and set one fire. He told police he tried unsuccessfully to put out the fire and then went to another area and lit other fires.

He admitted going to the gym and talking to a student and admitted he left the building after being confronted by a teacher. He also admitted dropping the lighter, Solava said.

News-Gazette staff writer Anne Cook contributed to this report.

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