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Police arrest three students for arson, fire damage destroys student work

By Lucy Chen

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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 heater in art teacher Nancy Mornini's room was ruined. Her classroom was hit the hardest, losing student artwork, books and furniture. Photo by Annie Russell.

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.”

Fans line the hallway and social studies classrooms. Students in those rooms will have to relocate for the next few days. Photo by Annie Russell.

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

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15 Responses to “Police arrest three students for arson, fire damage destroys student work”

  1. a sophomore on April 10th, 2011 5:35 pm

    This is ridiculous! Such an unnecessary act of destruction. I hope whoever did this gets caught.

  2. Mr. Shoe on April 11th, 2011 1:17 am

    Yeah I hate arsonists more than I hate Sue Sylvester.

  3. Intellectual British Man on April 11th, 2011 7:38 am


  4. freshie on April 11th, 2011 7:59 am

    Now some students and teachers may be worried about leaving things in a classroom.
    Work that students put lots of time and effort in to creating is now destryoed, along with many of teachers’ belongings. I hope they’re able to catch over ever did this.

  5. average student on April 11th, 2011 8:25 am

    im not trying to be mean but i say theres a 98% chance it was a freshman. Look at their track record. Stuff like this did not happen before they got here.

  6. I am outrageeeddd!!! on April 11th, 2011 10:18 am


  7. wolfram on April 11th, 2011 12:07 pm

    Nooooooo, my artworks!

  8. Rational Logic Man on April 11th, 2011 1:10 pm

    Not really, last year there was two fires, one of which was caused by the junior grade, the other a senior.

  9. the sophmore on April 11th, 2011 1:20 pm

    all those hard work art, up in flames, its just sad

  10. Happy justice has been served on April 11th, 2011 5:05 pm

    Watched the perps get walked out in handcuffs… Justice FTW

  11. HAppy justice? on April 11th, 2011 6:26 pm


  12. Bob McDonald on April 13th, 2011 10:32 am

    They’re minors, they won’t release the names. Just gotta listen to the ol’ rumor mill I suppose.

  13. Manas B. on April 13th, 2011 1:18 pm

    how did they catch them? good that they did though

  14. A. Geek on April 18th, 2011 1:32 pm

    So anyone who cares to listen to the rumor mill can easily find out who is alleged to have done it. Why doesn’t the B&W report the allegations? (Or report the allegations and why the accused is/are not likely to have done it.)

  15. Bob McDonald on April 26th, 2011 10:05 am

    Because there’s a huge difference between hearing about something through rumors to having a school news platform report the names.

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Police arrest three students for arson, fire damage destroys student work