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Classes Resume at Cape Fear High School; Cleanup Continues

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CUMBERLAND COUNTY — Almost one week after police say two students torched and trashed Cape Fear High School, students are again in class.

Principal Jeff Jernigan said cleanup crews worked around the clock to get ready for the school's reopening. Administrators had to be creative to find spaces within the school to move students whose classrooms had been damaged. Using labs and other spots, they were able to get all students situated.

Teachers tried to hold classes as normal, although time was spent to answer questions students had. The smell of smoke still lingers, and construction crews are still working to repair the eight damaged classrooms.

In a talk to students prior to classes getting under way, Jernigan asked students to be sensitive to the friends of suspects who remain in school.

The fire's damage runs deeper than the soot and smoky smell in the hallways.

"My first emotion when I saw it burning Tuesday morning was hurt," Jernigan said. "And then it turned to anger."

Jernigan said he dealt with a lot of emotions since Tuesday when flames scorched two classrooms and smoke damaged an entire wing of the high school.

The next day, police arrested Cape Fear students Michael Furmage, 17, and Paul Payne III, 16.

Jernigan says the smell of smoke and months of work are what students are coming back to.

But with the hard work of the cleaning crews, the principal is breathing a little easier.

"I'm feeling a little better tonight after seeing fresh coats of paint and a lot of the soot removed," Jernigan said. "So I'm feeling that even though this is going to be a minor setback that it could have been a lot worse."

Monday morning, students had lots of questions about what had occurred to their school, a building that is deeply woven into the fabric of the community -- many parents of today's students attended Cape Fear themselves.

Deborah King, a teacher, said she had tried to keep everything low key. "The learning goes on," she declared.

Some students wanted to help and they were able to clean up parts of the library.


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