After The Smoke Cleared
The three of them stood there teetering on the brink of heartbreak. Their school, their pride, and hard work in one fatal inferno had left them bereft of certainty towards the future. It was once a place where men and women could go to reconcile and rehabilitate their shaken lives. Where, that Monday afternoon, Jack Richter and Roger Ames should have been students in the middle of another day of classes. Where, that Monday afternoon, Jennifer Wilson should have been in the midst of another day at the office helping others to reach their true potential. Instead here they were staring up at the boarded up windows of blackened dreams, wondering if there would be any chance at a return to normalcy.
Roger Ames, 38, recently released for car theft has acknowledged that the neighborhood is apprehensive about the presence of “ex-cons” at the school and worries that the fire may have been “a message to get out”. However, not everyone that attends the school has a criminal past, and the vicious attack on the school demonstrates a lack of that fact as public knowledge. Jack Richter, 29, has been attending classes since last spring in attempts to receive his GED. “I dropped out when I was in high school. I was a dumb kid. This place was my second chance,” Richter said. “I hope they find it fast because I really need to join the military and start making something of my life.”
Arson or Hate Crime?
“I can appreciate Ms. Wilson’s sense of urgency, but this is a crime scene,” Oakdale Police Chief Bryant Tam said about the delayed investigation, “Unfortunately, our crime scene investigators are backed up in processing evidence from the scene, so until we know we have what we need, we can’t release the scene. It was arson, but now we need to know who is doing this.” His theories on the arsonist being a student, former student, or even a possible resident of the Oakdale community have yet to be proven but do not go unheeded.
The Woman In Charge
Jennifer Wilson, LSW and MEd, director, hasn’t let the vindictive crime completely deter her efforts to rebuild and support her students. In addition to somewhat harassing the police chief for answers, she has also moved into actively looking for another space to continue providing job, computer training, and high school equivalency courses to those in need. Since they have always seemed to have had a friendly relationship, she remains skeptical about the involvement of someone from the neighborhood in the arson, and focuses on repairing the physical and psychological damage to her school and its students.