Fire damages Piñon playground

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Crime > LAFD and LAPD conducting an active arson investigation

By John Severance

It took five days for workers to install the new slide at the Piñon Elementary School.
It took less than five minutes, though, for all that work to go up in flames.
Superintendent Gene Schmidt announced the school district has posted a $1,000 reward for information leading to the identification of the person(s) responsible for the vandalism to the Piñon playground.
Police and the fire department responded to a call of a fire on the Piñon playground.
At approximately 1:28 a.m. Thursday, which was also the first day of school, a report from a resident was called in to Fire Station 3. Police officers Corporal Sheldon Simpson, Detective Joey Robinson, and firefighters from Engine 10 responded and extinguished the fire within minutes.
No structures were damaged; however, the recently installed “big toy” slide on the upper playground was badly damaged. The slide, made of plastic, melted and excessive burn marks could be seen.
Principal Jill Gonzales, who arrived at the scene at around 2:30 a.m. said when she arrived the arson investigator already was there.
“The top priority is to get this replaced,” Gonzales said.
Schmidt said, “It saddens me this senseless, mean-spirited act disrupted the first day for students.”
Gonzales said students’ reaction was sadness.
“They said who would do that and why. This is really mean,” Gonzales said. “Those were the main comments I heard.”
Despite the vandalism, Gonzales said it was still a good first day of school.
“It was a day of joyful and celebration. Students and families were excited about going to school. The Panther mascot was here. It was a good day,” Gonzales said.
The playground where the arson took place, was for fourth to sixth graders.
“We have a plan,” Gonzales said. “And we are going to come back better and stronger.”
Deputy fire chief Justin Grider said LAFD is working with police on the investigation.
“There is not a lot I can say about it,” Grider said. “It’s definitely arson. It’s definitely not a good thing especially the day before school starts. That is school and taxpayer money that was lost.”
LAPD released the following statement Friday morning.
“The Los Alamos Police Department is seeking information about a recent arson at the Pinon Elementary School. The arson at 90 Grand Canyon Dr occurred on Aug. 14 between 1 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. in the back playground area. When police and fire officials arrived, they observed and extinguished a fire in some playground equipment.
“The blaze caused extensive damage to the playground slide that was recently purchased for this current school year. “
Commander Preston Ballew added, “At this time, both LAFD Arson Investigators and LAPD Detectives are actively looking into the incident and are suspecting arson as the cause. Anyone with information that may be helpful in solving this crime is urged to contact the Los Alamos Police Department at 662-8222 or Los Alamos Crime Stoppers at 662-8282. Callers can remain anonymous.”