The State Fire Marshal's Office received an anonymous tip of two names Monday afternoon, December 15. Warrants were secured for the arrest of Thommy Thanh Cao, 18, Kentwood. The second suspect, Robert Chester, 19, Kentwood was located by his family and brought into the Kentwood Police Department. Both teens have cooperated fully with Kentwood Police and the State Fire Marshal's Office.
At this point, the only motive provided to authorities by the two suspects is that they were just doing something stupid.
The early morning fire set at the historic Kentwood High School sent sooty smoke damage throughout much of the main building, library and administration putting them out of service.
The alarm sounded at 12:18 a.m. The Kentwood Fire Department and police responded first, with more help coming from Osyka, Amite and Roseland Fire Departments. "Smoke billowed from the front doors of the building as firefighters crawled in with air packs and hoses to contain the fires," Assistant Principal Rochell Bates said. "I unlocked the school's gates and doors for firefighters after getting a call from the alarm company," Bates added. Kentwood Police Chief James Rimes and Principal Lisa Fussell praised the quick action by firefighters from the area, saying they got to the blaze quickly and acted effectively. "Speed made the difference," Rimes said. "It was about to get nasty," he added.
The fire was started in a main floor classroom toward the back of the main building and closest to the auditorium. The arsonists broke in through a classroom window on the main floor. Books, computers, file cabinet contents and items on a teacher's desk were heavily damaged in one classroom. Similar damage occurred in another classroom and the floors, walls and ceiling of the main floor were covered with smoke residue leaving a horrible odor. The main building that houses classrooms for high school students was the only one attacked."The fire department arrived really quickly and made a very good stop of the blaze, which allowed investigators to collect a lot of evidence," State Fire Marshall H. "Butch" Browning said.
"This was a joint investigation with the Kentwood Police Department," Arson Supervisor Donald Carter said. "Kentwood Police Chief James Rimes and his department were instrumental in the this case being solved so quickly," Carter added. The State Fire Marshal's Office commended the Kentwood Fire Department on the great job they did responding to the fire so quickly noting their quick response saved the entire structure. "Without their phone call we wouldn't have known it was an arson fire," Investigator Lance LaMarca said.
Lisa Fussell, who is serving her first year as principal offered comforting words to the Kentwood High School family. "It's disheartening that this was two of our students but we won't let this deter us from our daily goal of educating and caring for our students," Fussell said. "We are shocked and dismayed but we will pull together as a school and a community to keep promoting our Roo pride," she added. Fussell recognized her faculty and staff and all the hard work they have done since the tragic event occurred. "I would like to thank Assistant Principal Rochell Bates who has been a tremendous help, my entire faculty, staff and student body for all the work they have done," Fussell stated. Everyone has pulled together and got the job done to get Kentwood High School back on its feet. From the custodians to our secretaries everyone has gone above and beyond the call of duty," she added. Principal Fussell also thanked the many fire departments that responded so quickly. "Without their quick response and hard work our school would have been lost," Fussell said. "Thank you all so much. The strength and dedication of Kentwood High School and the Kentwood community is overwhelming and I am so proud to be the principal here at Kentwood High," she added.