Former Students Set High School Robotics Lab on Fire

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Image: Matt Mets/Flickr

Shortly after midnight on Thursday, December 8, three men were detained by police outside of San Luis Obispo High School in California on suspicion of arson. According to the police report for the incident, Jacob Ruth (19), Cameron Bratcher and Michael Benadiba (both 18) allegedly broke into the high school’s computer lab and set it ablaze using road flares.

“I know [the damage] was significant, but I don’t know there is a dollar amount attached to it yet,” Chris Staley, San Luis Obispo’s administrative police captain, told Motherboard. “They said the computer lab was a total loss and now they’re trying to determine what that value is.”

Police were alerted to the incident after a nearby resident called in suspicious activity after seeing three individuals jump a fence heading toward the high school.

Although San Luis Obispo firefighters were able to save surrounding classrooms from the blaze, the computer lab and all of its contents were lost to the fire. Although the total amount of damaged has yet to be determined, current estimates place it at around $750,000.

This included an estimated $30-40,000 worth of equipment used by the high school’s robotics club, which was gearing up for a competition this weekend in Modesto, California. Seventeen tablets were also taken from the computer lab on Tuesday, although whether this theft was connected to the arson has yet to be determined.

As the high school computer science teacher Jan Fetcho told the San Luis Obispo Tribune, this robotics equipment had taken years for the students to accumulate. “The things that the kids raised money to buy are gone,” Fetcho told the Tribune.

In an act of robo-solidarity, students from the nearby Atascadero High School’s robotics team have volunteered extra parts to the San Luis Obispo club so that it might still partake in competitions in January. The non-profit tech association Softec has also launched a GoFundMe campaign to replace the team’s robotic equipment.

The exact reason that these three men wanted to rage against the machines by burning them has yet to be determined. Ruth had graduated from the high school in 2015, but Bratcher had withdrawn from the school and Benadiba had transferred to another high school.

Staley told Motherboard that the men have all been interviewed and the younger two suspects released from the county jail. The details of these interviews have not been released at this time.

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