‘Just senseless:’ Independence elementary school playground destroyed in arson fire

An Independence playground was destroyed in an alleged arson fire early Sunday.

Surveillance video from Thomas Hart Benton Elementary shows a white vehicle stop twice in the school’s parking lot after midnight, said Ken Jarnagin, the school district’s director of public safety.

Around 2 a.m., the video shows four people walking from the parking lot to the scene of the fire. Within minutes of the fire starting, seven people are seen leaving school grounds through the parking lot on the video.

Fire crews responded around 3:52 a.m. and extinguished the blaze.

When school officials and students arrived Monday morning, they saw their playground had sustained significant damage, with material from the slide, basketball hoop and play structure melted.

“It’s just senseless,” Jarnagin said. “I just can’t understand why somebody would go to that extent to cause that kind of damage to playground equipment, especially for the small ages that it’s designed for. You can’t understand why somebody would do that.”

Police are investigating the arson.

The playground isn’t usable. Instead, kids are playing with tricycles, balls and other toys.

Students are disappointed, Jarnagin said. When he arrived Monday, one kid kept telling him and the principal that their playground was broken.

“They’re asking a lot of questions as to what happened,” he said. “They’re just so young, they don’t quite understand.”

A company assessed the damaged playground Monday afternoon and said it could give the school a quote for the repairs in a few days.

Jarnagin said the district will consider security measures for school playgrounds going forward. However, because community members are encouraged to use the playgrounds, he said officials will need to strike a balance between securing the facility and allowing it to stay open for residents.