Rapid response saves Richard Ishmael school from arsonists

The Richard Ishmael Secondary School was saved from destruction early yesterday morning after an invasion by arsonists.

A teachers’ sitting room where an attempt was made to set one of the school’s buildings ablaze.
A teachers’ sitting room where an attempt was made to set one of the school’s buildings ablaze.

The attack was part of a pre-dawn campaign in which the Supreme Court Registry was also targeted for arson and two police stations came under heavy gunfire. Police yesterday said the suspects are believed to be part of the same network that destroyed the Ministry of Health a few months ago.

Students who turned up at the Woolford Avenue compound were sent home yesterday, having learnt that attempts were made at eight different locations throughout the school compound to set buildings ablaze. Stabroek News was told by employees present at the school yesterday that sometime after 3 am an alarm was sounded by a Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH) security guard. The northern section of the hospital is separated from the school by Lamaha Street and the guard would’ve seen a first form classroom on fire. The classroom was one of the eight locations in the school that were set afire and it sustained the most damage. The blaze was soon brought under control by fire-fighters and hours later bottles said to contain kerosene were discovered. At the time the alarm was raised fire-fighters were at the Supreme Court, Avenue of the Republic dousing a fire there.

The damaged first form classroom at Richard Ishmael Secondary
The damaged first form classroom at Richard Ishmael Secondary

A teacher, who declined to be named, said she was one of the first persons to arrive at the scene yesterday. The woman said she was awakened shortly after 3am and informed that the school was on fire. When she arrived a first form classroom was ablaze and it was not evident then that other parts of the school had been lit. “When I got here the first form classroom was on fire…the fire ranks rushed from the High Court to the school and immediately contained the fire,” the woman explained. “It was about 10 minutes after the alarm was raised about the High Court fire that the hospital guard saw the fire here.”

The head-teacher’s office, a teachers’ staff room, the administration office, the Home Economics room and four class rooms were the locations where the intruders attempted to start fires. However, the teacher noted that the areas were scorched but the fires didn’t spread. “You see the places where they light didn’t have enough fuel around or the right type of material around for the fire to catch…from what I’ve seen around here they were trying to burn down every building in this compound,” the woman stated.

The padlock on the head teacher’s office was broken and a section of her curtain was burnt. Moving deeper into the compound, the first form teachers’ staff room showed signs of scorching on the desk and wall and several books were destroyed by the fire.

The damaged window blind in the Richard Ishmael head teacher’s office
The notice which greeted Richard Ishmael students yesterday morning

By late in the morning, teachers were cleaning up the various locations. The roof of the first form class room was scorched but damage was limited to books, furniture and small burns on the floor and walls at other locations. Fire officers and Criminal Investigation Department (CID) ranks had already visited the school to conduct investigations.

Teachers were shocked when it was discovered later that the first form classroom was not the only place set afire. More than half of a dozen bottles, they said, which reportedly contained kerosene were found at the locations around the school. Three bottles with a flammable liquid and channa were found in the building by the police.

Stabroek News also learnt that two security guards should have been on duty during the time the school was invaded. However, Police Commissioner Henry Greene yesterday said it was “strange” that the guard that was supposed to be on duty claimed he had asked the other guard to work but the man never showed up. “We are investigating that,” he said, “That is something worthy of our further investigation. I know they are pursuing that because it does appear that something is amiss in relation to that.”

The hole in this front fence, blocked by furniture, might have been one of the areas the intruders gained entry to the Richard Ishmael compound yesterday.
The hole in this front fence, blocked by furniture, might have been one of the areas the intruders gained entry to the Richard Ishmael compound yesterday.

It was opined by school employees that two security guards were not enough to secure a compound the size of Richard Ishmael’s. It is still not clear how the invaders gained entry to the school compound but teachers said they could’ve jumped the back fence or forced their way through a hole in the front fence.

Students were greeted by a notice from head teacher Chandroutie Persaud which stated that there would be no school until further notice and that the school had been damaged by fire. However, teachers said that school should resume today since registration and projects for the Caribbean l Examinations Council are currently being done. “We’re just hoping that school resumes soon because all our students showed up here this morning [yesterday] and we had to get the aid of police to clear them from the road and order them home,” another teacher said, adding “We are all shocked at what has happened and to tell you the truth we are wondering what will happen next. Maybe they will attack us in broad daylight next.”

A desk in the first form teachers’ staffroom that was set afire early yesterday morning.
A desk in the first form teachers’ staffroom that was set afire early yesterday morning.

Richard Ishmael Secon-dary is bordered by other educational institutions as well as the Guyana Teachers’ Union office.

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