A total of 4 teenagers in Payette, Idaho, have been accused of burning down their principal’s house in retaliation for a school suspension.
The four boys, including three high school students and one middle school student, are allegedly responsible for a blaze that destroyed the home of Payette High School Principal Mark Heleker.
Payette Police Chief Mark Clark said he believed the teens set fire to the principal’s house in retaliation for a couple of them being suspended the week prior.
Days later, Clark said he asked a judge to issue warrants for the teens’ arrests on felony charges. One youth is being charged with first-degree arson, while the other three will be charged with conspiracy to commit arson, according to the Argus Observer.
The fire started after someone lit a trash can in the driveway in front of Heleker’s house. The flames then spread to the attic of the house.
The occupants of the house — Heleker, his wife Lorrie, and his 24-year-old daughter, Katie Erwin — all managed to escape the blaze unharmed after Katie reportedly noticed the fire while out walking the dog. The family rescued their pets and a few photo albums, but the rest of their possessions, including their three cars, were lost in the fire, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Police investigators were led to the four boys through social media. Clark said the investigation began with a Snapchat message one teen reportedly posted, which bragged about starting the fire and contained a fire emoji.
“That’s where we started,” Clark said, according to the Idaho Statesman. “Then we were receiving information from other students about particular students bragging about the fire.”
Investigators then executed search warrants on Facebook accounts and phones to gather more evidence, according to the Argus Observer.
The teens will be transported to Canyon County Juvenile Facility once they are arrested. All four will initially appear in adult court, although some may be transferred to juvenile court at a later date.
They also face burglary charges for breaking into cars.
Meanwhile, the Payette community has flooded Heleker and his family with support in their hour of need.
Payette High School students created a GoFundMe page to help raise money for the Helekers. The page has raised over $3,000 in 10 days.
Donations totaling $2,100 were also collected at the front desk of the school, the Argus Observer notes.
The Heleker family is currently staying in a hotel while looking for a longer-term rental house.
“The tragedy itself was so terrible and going through it, it’s going to take a long, long time to recover, and there’s some things we’ll never get back,” Heleker told the Argus Observer. “But on the other side of it, the positive outpouring from the community is just amazing. We’re just so grateful.”
Sources: Idaho Statesman, Argus Observer, GoFundMe / Photo Credit: April Ehrlich/Argus Observer, Dr. Bill Martsch/Idaho Statesman, GoFundMe