Local News

Cumberland Authorities Arrest 2 Students for Starting Cape Fear High School Fire

Posted November 30, 1999

— Cumberland County authorities have arrested two Cape Fear High School students for starting the fire Tuesday that caused $1 million in damage at the school.

10th-grader Michael Furmage, 17, and 11th-grader Paul Payne III, 16, face several felony charges and are being held on $100,000 bond each.

Investigators say the teens told them they broke into the school through windows and used gasoline to start the fires.

The two said they set the fires to see them on TV and get out of school.

Fellow students are disappointed that their classmates could destroy their own classrooms.

"I kinda cried in a way," Audrey Lee said. "They didn't seem like the type of people that would do this."

The students both live with Payne's parents, who called the Sheriff's Office when they smelled gasoline on the teens.

ATF agents continue to search the campus for evidence, while more than 90 custodians are cleaning up from the fires, hoping to have the school open Monday.

Jeff Jerrigan, principal of Cape Fear High School, said the boys were not on the original suspect list but WRAL has learned they had been suspended in the past, and Furmage has a minor brush with the law.

"Certainly, it's that much more of a disappointment considering that it was our own kids," Jerrigan said.

Betty Jo Smith, a school social worker, cannot believe the students would commit an act like this.

"I would not refer to them as troublemakers per se," Smith said. "Maybe troubled kids or problems but not troublemakers that stand out in the school."

The students are also charged with calling in a bomb threat at the school in early November.

Investigators believe there were no other students involved. Both students will appear in court Friday morning.


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