When school fire alarms go off, most students would assume it’s a drill, or someone pulled the alarm. Maybe someone was cooking in the foods room and wasn’t doing a very good job, or a student wasn’t paying attention in science class, or a heinous April Fool’s prank. That’s what was assumed by many students at Langara College on April 1st, before the news broke: someone had set the T building on fire.
An anonymous instructor in the technology building reported seeing “flames about four feet high.” These flames, set by two incendiary devices, would result in a full campus evacuation by 1pm, staff and some of the 22,000 students who attend Langara were told to move farther and farther away from campus, until they eventually crossed W 49th Ave. A massive police presence filled the scene, SWAT team and all, as firefighters controlled the flames. Campus closed for the remainder of the day and the next. For the last week of classes of the Spring semester, and scheduled exams for the following two weeks, two missed classes might have been problematic for both students and instructors. Classes resumed on Wednesday, and all classes in the T building were moved online, far from ideal for the hands-on classes that were taught there. It was home to 15 science labs and many other facilities, including PC labs and meeting rooms.
The T building also houses the Registrar and Enrollment Services, putting student files at risk of water damage after the fire above. Currently, the Registrar’s office and staff have been relocated to a tight computer lab in the adjoining library building.
The suspect, 23-year-old Nasradin Abdusamad Ali of Surrey, is undergoing mental health assessment, ordered by the court. He was apprehended at around 4:30 pm the day of the fires by Metro Vancouver Transit Police in his home city. The Vancouver Sun reports that Ali attended some classes in the building he allegedly attacked. “We are looking into whether or not there was some flags, was there anything we could have done to help prepare for this.” said Vancouver Police Const. Jason Doucette at a press conference the day after the fire. It is believed that Ali sent taunting messages to the school after he fled the scene, though it is unconfirmed, and his motive is also unclear.
Ali does have a history with crime and violence, charged in February of last year with “uttering threats and theft under $5,000.” He also now has added charges of assault and robbery, after an alleged on-campus fight with another student on March 7, and an alleged mugging of another student at an off-campus bus stop on March 26, only five days before he set the fires. He is currently facing one count of arson and one count of possession of incendiary material, in addition to the previous charges cited.
The judge told Ali that “It would be a good idea to have a lawyer present,” after Crown prosecutor Jonas Dow told the court that he likely wasn’t familiar with the justice system. Though Ali’s father, his two sisters and a “woman around his father’s age pushing a toddler in a stroller” were waiting outside the courtroom, as they arrived too late to attend the court appearance, very little is known about his personal life. His family said that he had moved out around a year ago, but offered no other comment.
This unsettling and inconvenient crime is one of a handful of arsons committed against schools. Guelph Police in Ontario recently apprehended the culprit of three separate fires set at the University of Guelph on December 13, and approximately $5,000 of damages to Sir Isaac Brock Public School, a secondary school in Guelph. In 2014, a fire was set in the middle of the night at Sunshine Hills Elementary School in Delta, BC, which resulted in at least $100,000 of damages. Most prominently, on October 18, 2008, a McMaster University student set fire to his own dorm, Brandon Hall, which caused a major disruption for it’s 557 residents.
Langara is lucky in the fact that no one was injured and no beloved items were destroyed, though the price tag attached to the damage done to equipment will likely hurt, as the construction of the building itself back in 2016 cost $54 million.
Image Credit: @JonasQuastel (twitter) / Daily Hive