All four boys accused of burning down the Payette High School principal’s house are now in custody, officials said Thursday.
Investigators believe the motive for the crime was the suspension of two of the students on drug-related issues. One of the suspended students is charged with drug trafficking, Payette Police Chief Mark Clark said .
Clark said an investigation into drugs at the high school was launched after several students became sick a couple of weeks ago. It was determined that they had ingested prescription drugs that were obtained illegally.
“I know for sure that one of the kids is being charged, and that he had a warrant for his arrest for delivery of a controlled substance,” Clark said. “I don’t think there were any charges against the other kid.”
Clark couldn’t say which prescription drug had sickened the students, because lab results haven’t come back.
“We have a drug dog, and we routinely check cars and lockers in schools,” he said.
Clark said the drug they find most often is marijuana — there’s been an uptick since Oregon legalized it — but sometimes they find prescription drugs and drug paraphernalia.
The police chief said school officials invite officers in for drug searches about once a month.
“They want to send the message that we’re not going to tolerate narcotics on school grounds,” Clark said.
The principal’s house burned in the early morning hours of Feb. 22. Mark Heleker and his wife, Lorrie, a teacher, were sleeping, but their daughter — nursing student Katie Erwin, who worked late that night — woke them after seeing the fire while walking her dog. No one was injured but the house was a total loss, as were three cars in the driveway.
While waiting for bench warrants Tuesday and Wednesday, police kept a close eye on the juvenile suspects. They were able to quickly take three of them into custody late Wednesday afternoon. A parent of the fourth suspect turned the boy in Thursday morning.
“With all the media attention, we were afraid of flight,” Clark said.
A judge signed waivers that allowed authorities to book the boys into a juvenile facility in Caldwell rather than the Payette County Jail. The boys are being held on $200,000 bond apiece at the Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center, a 90-bed facility that serves Adams, Canyon, Gem, Owyhee, Payette and Washington counties.
The three high school students and one middle school student, all younger than 18, also are suspects in a string of vehicle robberies.
Clark said Thursday morning that two of the boys have been charged with first-degree arson and conspiracy to commit arson, both felonies. The other two are charged with conspiracy to commit arson.
“All the charges automatically put the juveniles in adult court,” Clark said.
Payette County Prosecutor Anne-Marie Kelso told the Statesman she didn’t know when the boys’ names and photos would be released. She said two of the boys were arraigned in Payette County Court on Wednesday, and a third was arraigned Thursday morning. An arraignment date hasn’t been set for the fourth yet.
A preliminary hearing has been set for March 14 at the Payette County Courthouse for the three boys who have been arraigned.