LEBANON, Pa. (WHTM) – Pennsylvania State Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are investigating the fire at Lebanon Catholic School early Sunday morning that’s believed to be arson.
Lebanon City Fire Department Fire Chief Duane A. Trautman says both agencies came out on Sunday to review the damage and remained until Sunday evening.
Lebanon City Police Chief Todd Breiner says police have identified several juvenile suspects utilizing personal interviews and video released via social media outlets showing a fire being set within the building. The names and ages of the juveniles were not released by police.
The Lebanon City Fire Department shared images of the school around 6 a.m. on Sunday showing flames inside the building. The fire department said “vandalism and arson are now the story of a once proud school family.”
Trautman told abc27 this was not the first instance of vandalism or arson at the former high school, though it was the first time the fire department had to respond.
“It’s been a target for weeks and here we are,” Trautman said, adding the school had been left vulnerable. “Doors were wide open, windows, it was pretty awful.”
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Trautman said his department got the call around 3:40 a.m. When they arrived, they found heavy smoke and flames on the second floor in the library. The fire had also spread to several classrooms in the back of the building.
The former high school closed in 2020 because of declining enrollment and financial issues. The building has stood empty since, but its legacy in the Lebanon community remains.
“My grandmother was there, my mother, my brother, me,” said alum Megan Price.
Price graduated from Lebanon Catholic High School in 2007. When she heard news of the fire, she said she drove to the school to see what happened for herself.
“It was painful to see your memories essentially burning,” she said. “I just had to stand there and cry.”
She was not the only one.
“We had a lot of alumni arriving this afternoon and people literally in tears, either angry or sad or both,” Trautman said.
Price said seeing the charred classrooms at the back of the building is especially difficult.
“You can picture yourself being there in those classrooms and with those teachers so those memories are really prominent,” she said.
The suspicion of arson is raising questions for her.
“What was going in their mind and their hearts at this time that they chose to do something so wrong?” she said. “Something that was so special to so many people is now gone.”
On Sunday, people arrived to board up the damaged building. Trautman said he wished those boards could have been put up earlier, before this happened.
“It should have never happened in the first place,” he said. “It’s just a shame to see such a landmark in the community taken down like this.”
It’s not known at this time if there were any injuries or exactly how the fire started.
The Diocese of Harrisburg no longer owns the former high school property. A spokesperson told abc27 the diocese sold the property at the end of May to a development company. The company plans to build apartments on the site.
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