Arson Fire Does Up to $1M in Damage at Helena High School

Teens were intoxicated when they entered the school at around 9:45 p.m.

HELENA – A trio of 13-year-olds made initial appearances in Youth Court on charges they were involved in a break-in and arson fire that caused up to $1 million in damage at Helena High School, canceling classes for two days.

Police Sgt. Randy Ranalli told Youth Court Judge Kathy Seeley that a girl acknowledged setting fire to a mop in the janitor’s closet on Monday night while school surveillance video captured images of the girl and a boy setting fire to posters in a classroom. Both had lighters, he said. Another girl was apprehended outside the school.

The teens were intoxicated when they entered the school at around 9:45 p.m. Monday, Ranalli said.

All had been students at Helena Middle School and have been involved with juvenile probation. None had attended Helena High.

The boy’s criminal record includes being caught selling marijuana on school property when he was 10 while the girl who acknowledged setting the fires is a suspect in a theft at a store, according to testimony during the probable cause hearing.

The other girl was listed as a runaway and tested positive for amphetamines after she was arrested. She had previously been charged with theft and assault and had finished probation a month ago, according to testimony.

The 13-year-olds appeared before Seeley via video from a juvenile detention center in Great Falls. They did not speak during the hearing, the Independent Record (bit.ly/2fFM5vp) reported.

Seeley ordered the teens held at the detention center, saying there was enough evidence for juvenile delinquency petitions based on felony charges of burglary for all three and arson for two of them.

In addition to the fire, smoke and water damage, a pipe burst, flooding the upstairs math wing, Ranalli said.

Five math classrooms and four English classrooms in the wing below the fire were damaged, officials said.

Classes resumed Thursday, with some class sections moved to other rooms in the building and some classes moved across the street to Helena College, Interim Superintendent Jack Copps said.

Copps anticipates the damaged classrooms will be repaired within a month.

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