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Prosecutor: Edison Elementary School Fire Under Investigation As Possible Arson

School Canceled Monday For 500 Students

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EDISON, N.J. (CBSNewYork)Not much remains of the James Monroe Elementary School in Edison, N.J. after a massive fire Saturday night gutted the building.

The fire started just before 8 p.m. on Saturday and engulfed the whole school within minutes. Extra firefighters were quickly called to the scene to help because the fire grew so big.

Classes have been canceled for the 500 students on Monday and Tuesday, school officials announced via the school’s website Sunday afternoon.

On Wednesday, buses will begin taking children to temporary classrooms at Middlesex County College.

There will be a parent meeting and press conference at Edison High School at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, the school announced. There will also be counseling services available to students, staff and members of the community at the Edison Education Center.

As WCBS 880’s Monica Miller reported Monday morning, acting Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey said the fire is being investigated as a possible arson.

“I think that this is a crime against education. A Crime against the future of America,” Neil Jesani told CBS 2’s Dave Carlin.

The six-alarm fire consumed the James Monroe Elementary School, at 7 Sharp Rd. in Edison.

“A devastating tragedy for our school community and words can’t begin to say how hard this is for our community,” Edison Public Schools Superintendent Richard O’Malley told CBS 2 late Saturday night.

Investigators have deemed the fire suspicious. Crime scene units were on the early Sunday morning, WCBS 880’s Monica Miller reported.

Edison Township Fire Chief Frank Imbriacco said that an answer on arson may not be available for days.

“All avenues will be investigated,” he said, “It’s just going to take time to find the cause.”

Investigators added that they are aware of at least three security cameras inside of the school. It was unclear on Sunday, if those cameras and their footage survived the fire.

The fire was brought under control about three hours after it started. Firefighters worked overnight to put out hotspots to make sure the massive fire wouldn’t ignite again.

As of Sunday morning, smoke was still seen rising from the building, Miller reported.

The kindergarten-fifth grade school was built in 1963, housing thousands of students over the decades. For some, watching the flames was like watching the memories disappear.

“This is a true neighborhood school. It’s right in the center of the neighborhood, if you don’t live here, you don’t know it exists,” one woman said.

“My daughter goes to school here and everything is just a total loss and it’s just sad that there’s so many memories from this school,” another woman said.

“For us, it was great because we could walk here. Now we’re going to have to worry about busing,” a father told added.

Board of Education President Gene I. Maeroff released the following statement on Sunday:

          “People in Edison are in a state of shock this morning. An elementary school is like a second home for its children. That home has been destroyed for some youngsters by a devastating fire that raged last night at James Monroe Elementary School. School officials and board of education members will begin meeting today to make plans for dealing with this disaster.

          The home page of the website will carry pertinent information as plans develop. Suffice to say at this time that there definitely will be no school on Monday for students who attend James Monroe Elementary School.

          We all know that Edison’s schools are severely overcrowded and finding space for the displaced students will not be easy. But all necessary steps will be taken to ensure that the education of the students is disrupted to the least extent.

          A sad occasion like this reminds us of the role that a neighborhood school like Monroe plays in the life of the community. Many adults and older students in Edison remember their days at Monroe. Parents of today’s students know that having the school nearby and knowing that their children were safe in the building was a source of reassurance.

          The staff that worked at Monroe has lost the place that was so important in their daily lives. Many of them may have had personal items in the classrooms and elsewhere that were consumed by the fire. The rhythm of their working lives has been upended.

          Fortunately, there was no loss of lives. Every effort will be made to move forward in a way that serves the need of the children and adults affected by this terrible event. It has been reassuring to have many people already ask what they can do to help. Edison will triumph.”

The fire hit students particularly hard.

“The whole building is burnt. The windows are broken. I just felt really bad,” Maulikaa Manikantan said.

Parents of students at the school stopped by Saturday night and Sunday morning to see firsthand the damage.

“She’s excited because she thinks she has no school tomorrow. A typical third grader,” one mother said.

Twelve firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation.

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