Suspicious Fires Damage Theology Department, Gasson Hall

by Chris Canniff and Natalie Yuhas


On Saturday, November 9, at approximately 9:45pm, Boston College police received reports of small fires in Gasson and Stokes halls. Two of the fires had been set in the north wing of Stokes Hall, and another fire was set in Gasson 100 (the Irish Room) in Gasson Hall. The fourth floor of Stokes North, where the most serious damage was reported, is home to the theology department.


The school’s emergency alert system notified students of the fires at 2:10am on Sunday morning via text message and email alerts. Students were told to be wary of suspicious activity and to leave their building immediately if a fire alarm were to sound.

Julia Sauve, A&S ’14, was in Gasson that Saturday evening to do some reading when she happened upon the first of the fires. “I walked in and smelt smoke. I didn't immediately think much of it, and walked upstairs to get a classroom. Upstairs, it still smelt a lot like smoke, and I opened the door to the balcony that looks down on the large room on the first floor across from the chapel and saw about two chairs on fire in the middle of the room, burning slowly. At this time, I left the building and immediately called BCPD emergency line.”


There was no damage reported in Gasson Hall, as the fire was quickly extinguished. However, firms specializing in fire damage repair, in particular, Pro-Care Disaster Restoration Services, worked around the clock last week restoring areas damaged by fire, smoke, or water on all four floors of Stokes North.


Stokes Hall is the newest building on campus and was completed 11 months ago at a cost of $78 million after two years of construction. Professors and doctoral students who occupy the fourth floor of that building had limited access to their offices and cubicles last week, and classes held on that floor were temporarily relocated to unused space in Carney Hall.


Professor Catherine Cornille, chair of the theology department, informed The Torch that fourteen professors’ offices and five graduate students’ cubicles were directly impacted by these events. When asked whether she believed that the theology department was being specifically targeted, she said, “We do not have any reason to believe this.”


Professors John McDargh, Pheme Perkins, and Margaret Schatkin all have offices on the fourth floor of Stokes North.


According to Professor McDargh, “the faculty who occupy the fourth floor got our first detailed report of the extent of the damage from our colleague Fr. Ken Himes, OFM who was stopping by his office on Sunday morning after Mass and arrived before any of the damage had been addressed.”


None of McDargh’s belongings were damaged, but he indicated that the lower portion of one of the walls in his office had to be cut into to check for damages before being re-plastered and repainted. Furthermore, he lauded the efforts of all involved in the clean-up process.


Professor Perkins’ office was a bit more disrupted by the event. Last Monday morning, she had only fifteen minutes to grab from her office those things that she would need for the week. Having now returned, she has found that some of her books – those which happen to be most relevant to her area of specialty and, therefore, those to which she needs more frequent access – are currently at a remote site for cleaning. Two doctoral students who work closely with Perkins lost some of their books, but important materials pertaining to their thesis work were not damaged.


Professor Schatkin was quite fortunate that her office was not impacted by the fire in any way; she was able to have access to it throughout the entire clean-up process and was even able to hold appointments with her students, who had to be escorted by police officers from the stairway through the damaged areas to her office, which is at the opposite end of the floor.


The investigation into this arson is ongoing, and security measures will be reevaluated. Jack Dunn, director of the Office of News and Public Affairs, explained that, “A major design principle of Stokes Hall is to allow the free flow of students and to encourage student-faculty interaction. The building is open evenings, including weekend nights, to allow students to study and to meet in groups for class projects. Discussions among department chairs and administrators regarding building security will take place in the comings days.”


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