COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A 40-year-old man was charged Tuesday with burning down his South Carolina high school more than 23 years after authorities say he set books and other papers on fire in the hallways.
Daniel Scott Harris, 40 left his fingerprints in a “unique place” just before Macedonia High School was burned in August 1996, and when investigators recently reopened the arson case, they made the match, Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis said.
The community around the high school was already hurting at the time because the historic school near Moncks Corner was being closed and consolidated into a new building. The fire was a cruel final blow, said Sally Wofford, a Berkeley County School Board member who was in the last graduating class at Macedonia High School.
“The magnificent hardwood floors, the vaulted ceilings — when I close my eyes, and think about the school, I think about those floors and those ceilings and all the times that were had there,” Wofford said, trying not to cry. “I pray this brings closure to a lot of people to a community I represent that made me who I am.”
Investigators said it appeared the school had been vandalized before the fire with broken windows and overturned trophy cases.
The fire was set using books, papers and other items. It spread quickly and unnoticed because at the time it was in a rural area, Lewis said.
The sheriff said evidence indicates Harris wasn’t the only person at the school when it burned and at his news conference urged anyone who knew Harris or had any information about who he hung out with at the time to call deputies.
Harris was 17 and getting ready to enter his junior year when the fire was set. He is charged as an adult with second-degree arson and second-degree burglary. South Carolina has no statute of limitations so charges can be filed for any crime no matter how much time has passed.
Court records didn’t show a lawyer for him. Harris remained in the Berkeley County jail Wednesday afternoon.
Lewis did not release a lot of details about the investigation. He said the key fingerprints were found “in a unique place that would have indicated involvement in this crime.”
One of the few things salvaged from the ruins of the school was the original Macedonia school bell. The district had a longtime employee ring it to start this school year.
“I pray the guilty parties understand they did far more than burn down a building,” Berkeley School Superintendent Eddie Ingram said. “They burned a hole that in some ways can never be filled.”