Investigations eliminate arson as cause of fire

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 31, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Fire investigators have ruled out arson as a possible cause in the Monday night blaze that destroyed one of the buildings at the historical Natchez College campus.

Natchez Fire and state fire marshal investigators started work in the rubble Tuesday morning and NFD Chief Paul Johnson said the investigation would be completed by Wednesday.

&uot;We got a long way on it today,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;We found no means of forcible entry into the building. The locks that the building had were in place, and the deadbolts were in the locked positions.&uot;

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Authorities originally believed the vacant building did not have electricity but were told Tuesday the power source was intact. Johnson said the presence of electricity opens the door for the cause of fire to be electrical.

Fire officials spent Tuesday interviewing sources and examining the perimeter and building remains. Johnson said by looking at burn patterns they could determine where the fire started.

Once officials find the start location equipment is used to detect any chemicals.

Local representatives for the General Missionary Baptist State Convention, which owns the college, were on the scene Monday watching the investigations.

Rev. John Scott said the convention was waiting to hear from the fire marshal.

&uot;There aren’t any plans as of yet,&uot; Scott said about the site. &uot;It’s unfortunate that things happen.&uot;

Scott said the convention had been in contact with the fire investigators who had asked for a layout of the building. Scott identified the building that burned as the Owens Administration Building, which contained classrooms and offices.

Natchez College was a historically black college that opened in 1885 and closed in the early 1990s. It provided classes for elementary and high school students from all over the state who were not permitted at other schools.

Johnson said he attended the school for two years and had no trouble remembering it the way it used to be.

&uot;It was real lively and had a lot of students,&uot; he said.

Former President Fredricka Todd was on site Tuesday morning surveying the damage.

&uot;It’s really an immeasurable loss,&uot; Todd said. &uot;As far as African-American history for the state of Mississippi goes. Students came here to begin.&uot;

In its final years the school was struggling financially, Todd said, which motivated her to serve as president for a year in 1994 without pay.

Churches would sponsor children and provide funding for some of the students.

The college was featured in the book &uot;Coming of Age in Mississippi&uot; by Anne Moody and as a result garnered national attention and visitors from as far away as Amsterdam, Todd said.

In 2003, the Missionary Baptist State Convention proposed tearing down the old buildings in favor of building a new complex. The request was turned down by the city because of the historic nature of the buildings.

Scott said Tuesday that the convention would still like to carry out those plans, but that everything had been at a standstill for over a year.