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Student sets himself on fire at Denver-area school

2:10 PM, Jan 27, 2014   |    comments
A 16-year-old student set himself on fire Jan. 27, 2014, at Standley Lake High School in suburban Denver. (Photo: KUSA-TV, Denver)
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Blair Shiff and Tarhonda Thomas
KUSA-TV, Denver

WESTMINSTER, Colo. - One student was critically injured Monday after he set himself on fire in a high school cafeteria in an apparent suicide attempt.

Fire officials say more than 80% of the student's body was burned after he tried to kill himself at Standley Lake High School in suburban Denver. The 16-year-old, whose name has not been released, was taken to an area hospital.

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The fire, which broke out at about 7:15 a.m. MT, was extinguished quickly. Spokeswoman Cheri Spottke of the Westminster Police Department said the teen had not made any statements before igniting himself.

"There is no indication there were any threats," she said.

The teen reportedly doused himself with oil before setting himself on fire and left word of his intentions on social media. Spottke said she didn't know how the student started the fire.

"This is not someone's fault. I had this planned for years," the teen wrote in a social-media post. He went on to mention that friends over the weekend tried to talk him out of the suicide attempt. "If anyone says that they know why I did this, ... nobody knows and nobody will."

The fire was confined to the cafeteria, and a school staffer suffered a minor cut while trying to retrieve a fire extinguisher from its glass-enclosed container. A custodian quickly put the fire out with the extinguisher, Spottke said.

The building, which houses about 1,500 students in grades 9 to 12 northwest of Denver, did not sustain much damage but smoke did fill the area, officials said. Fire investigators discovered an empty one-gallon can of fuel on the floor.

"Our focus now is making sure the kids are safe," Spottke said.

Investigators went through the school with bomb-detection dogs as a precaution, and no devices were discovered, she said. Investigators also are talking to students, faculty members and family members to find out what happened and why.

Classes have been canceled Monday and Tuesday, said spokeswoman Lynn Setzer of Jefferson County Public Schools. Students who already had arrived on campus were sent home but will be able to return Tuesday for counseling and their belongings.

Self-immolation is rare in the United States and is not listed among the top reasons for emergency room visits resulting from self-inflicted injuries, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since 2009 in Tibet, 125 people have set themselves on fire to protest China's continuing occupation of that country. In December 2010, a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire to protest police harassment; his death became the catalyst for Arab Spring protests in several countries.

Monday's incident was the latest to affect Denver-area schools in recent weeks:

• On Thursday, Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where two gunmen killed 13 people in 1999, went on high security alert after receiving a series of threatening phone calls. The alert applied to a half dozen other schools in the area, in the same school district as Standley Lake, but was lifted the same day.

• On Dec. 13, Karl Pierson, 17, fatally shot Claire Davis, a 17-year-old classmate at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., before killing himself in the school's library. Pierson reportedly had threatened a teacher and librarian who had disciplined him last year and allegedly was seeking that teacher when he entered the school, investigators have said.

Westminster also was home to Jessica Ridgeway, a 10-year-old abducted on her way to school and killed in 2012. Austin Sigg, who was 17 at the time of the crime, was given to a life sentence plus 86 years for the crime.

Colorado state lawmakers are considering a bill to spend about $250,000 to continue a hot line that students and teachers can use to report threats and bullying anonymously. State officials say the hot line has prevented more than two dozen school attacks since its creation in 2004.

Contributing: Anastasiya Bolton, KUSA-TV, Denver; The Associated Press

KUSA-TV via USA Today

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