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    Arsonist sets fire as ‘way out’ of school

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    telescope news
    Photo courtesy of Connor Cook.
    Photo courtesy of Connor Cook.


    Christian Gaxiola/The Telescope

    Connor Cook, 19, the Palomar College student accused of lighting a series of restroom fires during the Spring 2014 semester, has admitted to starting at least one of the fires, and exclusively told The Telescope why.
    “I was overwhelmed with school. I wanted a way out,” Cook said during a recent phone interview.
    Connor said he has always been a good student, but college classes were putting unusual pressure on him. Within just weeks of starting school, he found himself falling behind while other students pushed forward. Rather than seeking help or dropping classes, he decided to do something extreme.

    “I thought it would help me catch up,” he said. “I never intended to burn down the school, or hurt anyone. I was just trying to help myself. And it was the wrong thing to do. It was all based on bad judgment.”

    Unfortunately, Cook’s actions didn’t make college life any easier. He was arrested on March 14 and charged with arson and attempted arson for a fire he started in the men’s restroom of the P Building.

    The small blaze was built with toilet paper and toilet seat covers, similar to a number of previous fires that were started on campus as far back as December 2013.

    Cook said he was booked into the Vista Detention Facility where he spent five days thinking about what he’d done and worrying about his future.

    “I prayed that somehow God would help me through the mess I was in,” he said. Cook’s parents came to his aid and posted his $25,000 bail. They also pulled together enough cash to hire an attorney.

    Cook said he then placed everything in his life on hold, including an internship with a local radio station to attend court hearings and a psychological evaluation. Meanwhile, investigators with the San Marcos Sheriff’s Department continued to gather evidence—video footage, incriminating statements, a lighter found on his person and even fingerprints left at the crime scene.

    “Until then I had been lying to everyone,” Cook said. “But I had to come clean. I told my parents first, then my girlfriend. They were supportive and wanted to help.”

    Cook eventually received a plea bargain from the District Attorney’s office. He was offered a chance to avoid prison time by pleading guilty to the charge of second-degree burglary and accepting five years of supervised probation. It was a deal he couldn’t refuse. So, he entered a plea of guilty and was scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 5.

    When asked how he felt about what he’d done, Cook responded, “I’m sorry. I’m not that kind of person. I’m the kind of person that likes to help people. I would make it up if I could, and now I just want to make a better life for myself.

    “I’ve been going through the hardest time of my life and I just want to put it behind me,” he added. “I want a career and a family, just like everyone else. Family always comes first. And I’ve definitely learned my lesson.”

    Connor said his biggest priorities now are to work hard until his legal fees are paid off. Then he’d like to continue his education and pursue a career in digital broadcasting.

    “I’d love to go to MiraCosta,” Connor said, “but what college would want to enroll a guy known for starting school fires?”

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    Arsonist sets fire as ‘way out’ of school