PARMA, Ohio — A fire that caused extensive damage at St. Anthony of Padua Elementary School in Parma Saturday has been ruled arson, according to a spokesperson from the Parma Fire Department
“It’s a very difficult one because that’s supposed to be a safe environment for kids and you would never contemplate that something like that would happen - a fire, especially an arson,” said T.J. Martin, the department's public information officer.
Parma firefighters responded to St. Anthony of Padua Elementary School Saturday morning for a fire reported in the building's basement. A maintenance worker discovered the fire and called 911 shortly before 10 a.m.
“The maintenance worker was entering the building and noticed there was a tremendous amount of smoke throughout the entryway when he came into the building,” Martin explained.
Crews responded to the campus, located at 6800 State Road, shortly thereafter. The St. Anthony of Padua campus includes the elementary school, Padua Franciscan High School and St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church.
Firefighters found heavy smoke coming from the basement and first floor of the elementary school, which was unoccupied at the time.
"Companies forced entry into the structure and aggressively attacked the fire in the basement of the school and on the ground level (first floor) which presented with fire in several of the classrooms. The classrooms involved in the fire were located directly above the basement fire area," authorities said.
Parma received mutual aid from at least four other nearby departments. Crews were able to prevent the fire from spreading and causing more damage. The State Fire Marshal responded to help with the investigation.
“There were significant signs that would indicate that the fire was intentionally set. And they ruled it an arson at this time,” Martin said. “When you hang the arson tag on it, it means there’s something more, there’s something deeper.”
He added investigators do not believe the arson is connected to other recent fires in the city.
“Most of the fires that we do experience are either accidental or maybe misuse of a heating element or heating source," he explained. "So arson is a special classification that we don’t often see. And we don’t want to see it again.”
St. Anthony of Padua released the following statement:
As a school community, we are truly heartbroken by the events of today. With assistance from the Diocese of Cleveland, St. Anthony is determining a path forward to continue our school year. We will keep families updated as soon as information is available. Thank you to all the first responders and immense support from communities near and far. Your continued support is cherished and greatly appreciated. With God by our side, we will prevail.
Anyone with information on the person or persons responsible is asked to contact the State Fire Marshal tip line at 800-589-2728, Parma Police detective Marc Karkan at 440-887-7323 or the Crime Stoppers Hotline at 216-252-7463.
A cash reward is available for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
“We’re hoping we can nip this one in the bud and get a positive conviction, not only for the peace of mind for the parish and the diocese, but for the residents in the area,” Martin said.
St. Anthony of Padua Parish said classes would be canceled at the school at least through next week.
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