Officials say early Saturday morning, four different fires were set in Abernathy ISD's high school and middle school. ATF agents believe the people suspected of setting the fires broke in through the high school principal's window late Friday night or early Saturday morning. The various fires they set leave at least 16 rooms unusable due to fire and smoke damage.
Although school officials and teachers are outraged at the act, they say it won't bring them down. School Superintendent, Herb Youngblood, says "First feeling is sick to your stomach and then it turns to anger and then what are we going to do to have school Monday?" Youngblood got the call at 5 a.m. on Saturday, by Sunday, the outpourring was remarkable. He says, "We probably had 300 to 400 people up here helping clean up, 50 to 60 kids helping clean."
Beyond clean-up, Youngblood had to figure out where to put everyone. The answer: the conference room of the administration building, the high school auditorium, previously empty classrooms in the elementary wing. They even built a new wall to make one room into two classrooms for Mrs. Bearden, Mrs. Harkey, and their language arts students. Wendy Bearden says, "We had to get here and come with a positive attitude because they're upset and angry." Beth Harkey says, "It's our community that has been tremendously wonderful. We couldn't ask for a better town to live in, the outpouring of love from parents and people that don't even have kids in school here."
Standing in the high school gymnasium, Superintendent Youngblood explains the scene saying, "We cleaned out all the kids' lockers and this is all the kids' personal belongings from the middle school." All those students' belongings fill the gymnasium with the distinct smell of smoke. It's a lingering reminder of what happened over the weekend, but as one eighth grade band member told us as we wandered into their practice... "The fire won't bring them down." As the school song plays, it's clear Abernathy school pride is just at strong as ever."
The fires caused about $1 million in damages. The disrict did have insurance, but it will take weeks to get some classrooms back into use, months for those damaged the most.