Teen sets himself on fire in suburban Denver high school

Crime Scene Tape

A 16-year-old student set himself on fire in the cafeteria of a Denver suburb high school on Monday in front of horrified classmates in what police said was an apparent suicide attempt, prompting a precautionary evacuation of the campus.

The student at Standley Lake High School in Westminster, Colorado, suffered burns over 80 percent of his body and was hospitalized in critical condition, according to town fire and police spokeswomen.

The youth, who was not publicly identified, walked into the cafeteria around 7 a.m. (1400 GMT) and lit himself on fire, before a school custodian grabbed a fire extinguisher and quickly doused the flames, police said in a statement.

Another school employee suffered a minor cut to her hand during the incident, but no one else was hurt, police spokeswoman Cheri Spottke said.

Details of the incident, including what type of flammable liquid the boy used and how he ignited the fire, were under investigation, Spottke said. She said police were not aware of any threats to the school.

“We’re assuming it was a suicide attempt,” Spottke said.

Several other students were in the cafeteria at the time, and investigators were speaking to some who witnessed the self-immolation, Spottke said.

“It’s pretty traumatic to witness something like this, and we’re going to get them any help they need to get through this incident,” she told reporters at the school.

As a precaution, investigators were conducting a thorough search of the school to confirm that no explosive or incendiary devices were left anywhere in the building.

The Westminster Fire Department said that firefighters arriving at the school were mostly dealing with smoke, but that the campus had been evacuated and would remain closed for the day.

Some 1,400 students are enrolled at the high school in Westminster, a suburb northwest of Denver that is included in the Jefferson County School District, the largest in the state.

The same district contains Columbine High School, where a pair of students fatally shot 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves in a 1999 massacre.

Columbine was the scene of a security lockout last week after authorities received telephone threats against the school. Police later determined the threats were not credible.

Colorado schools have been on edge after an 18-year-old student at another Denver-area campus, Arapahoe High School in Centennial, shot a classmate to death and killed himself with a shotgun in December. Police have said the student gunman in that incident was believed to have been acting in retaliation for discipline he received from the school’s debate team coach.


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