Arson in local playgrounds shocks community


Local firefighters put out the fire at Greenbriar West Elementary. The damage caused $35, 000 in damage.

Priya Viswanathan, Opinions Editor

Plumes of dark smoke rise into the sky causing the air to become thick with the smell of burning plastic and wood. A beloved playground full of memories is burnt to a crisp with no sign of the person who committed the crime.

Around 5:40 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 10, the playground at Greenbriar West Elementary School was set on fire, causing about $35,000 in damages. Though firefighters eventually put out the flames, all that was left behind was a charred, unusable mess.

“I first saw a bunch of people going out of their houses and then I was trying to see what they were looking at and I saw this big cloud of smoke coming out from [the school],” sophomore Timothy Rudolph said. “I went out my backyard and I could see the playground. It was going up in flames, and there was a ton of smoke.”

Many students who live near the Greenbriar West playground took pictures and videos of the incident, and these images have since been circulating via social media and have caught the attention of statewide news sources as well.

“The picture [I have] was actually taken by someone else that was running on the track when the playground started burning,” junior Olivia LeFrancois said. “I don’t really know how it got from them to my friend, but it is definitely circulating.”

There are many reasons why the image of the Greenbriar West playground burning has gained a lot of attention in the community. For some, it is because it is a newsworthy event; for others, it is because of the shock it induces. However, for many it is because of the numerous memories that were made at that playground.

“One of my friends sent [the picture] to me because she lives near the parking lot right next to Greenbriar West and she could see it from her house and smell it,” LeFrancois said.  “We both went to that elementary school, [and] she just wanted to show me because that was our playground that we would play on when we were younger.”

This act of arson was not a singular incident. Eight days before the burning of the Greenbriar West playground, a fire was set on the playground of Lees Corner Elementary School. There were also incidents including the torching of seven cars in Little Rocky Run in July of 2015 that many hypothesize are connected to these arson cases.

Though four teens were charged in the car fires, the persons responsible for both the Greenbriar West and Lees Corner playground burnings have not been caught. Despite this, there are many theories that have been spread in regard to who committed these crimes.

“I have heard from some of the teachers at Greenbriar West that they think it could be some people for some gang initiation that has to burn a playground but nobody actually knows,” LeFrancois said.

Some claim to have seen the suspects, and the police and fire department have been following all lead.

“I heard that some students- one person had a backpack- were running away from the [scene], so I’m assuming that they started the fire,” Rudolph said.

The Fairfax Fire Marshal has taken the lead on this case and has reached out to the community asking everyone to help find the culprit. He has teamed up with crime solvers and is encouraging anyone with information to call them. If, because of the helpful information provided, the case is closed, then the informant will be offered a reward.

Until the arson case is closed, there are many ways that students and the rest of community can prevent further incidents like this from occurring.

“If you see something that is getting ready to happen like this, report it to the police, fire department, a parent or an adult immediately,” safety and security specialist Dick Cline said. “If you’re able if you see something like this happening, try to get a description of the person. It’s hard to say because a lot of people have not been put in this position before, but if you see something, you should say something right away and try to get help.”

Despite the horror that has been caused because of these arson cases, there is still a silver lining that these events may bring unity among the community.

“Hopefully it will bring this type of incident to mind and people will be aware that this is going on and there is somebody out there doing this,” Cline said. “Hopefully it will get some communication going between kids, parents, whomever, and perhaps they can help the fire department find out who is doing this and help put a stop to it.”