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School-fire investigators seek individuals in video

Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office arson investigators are looking for three individuals seen at Douglas Byrd Middle School via surveillance video around the time a fire destroyed the school’s gymnasium.

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office arson investigators are looking for three individuals captured on surveillance video outside a Fayetteville school around the time a fire destroyed its gymnasium.

The fire started in the gym of Douglas Byrd Middle School around 10 p.m. on July 1 and quickly spread to the cafeteria, where it caused the roof to cave. No one was hurt.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Tanna said Wednesday that investigators still have not determined the cause of the fire and that they have not ruled out arson as a possibility.

"Until we determine that, we're calling it a crime scene," she said.

The surveillance video and the people captured on tape raise new questions for investigators, Tanna said.

"We would like to find out who these young people are," she said. "We'd like for them to come down and talk to us about what they were doing on the school grounds that late at night."

At one point, the video, taken less than an hour before the fire, shows three people behind a school bus. Shortly thereafter, they are running toward Douglas Byrd High School, which is next to the middle school.

In other shots, they are shown lingering around the front door and parking lot of one of the schools.

"It seems to appear, when you look at the video, that they're walking around, they're running from the scene from something, and they're laughing and talking and moving quickly," Tanna said.

So far, investigators have interviewed more than 100 individuals and have collected fingerprints and physical evidence from the crime scene.

Tanna declined to say what the evidence is.

In the coming weeks, detectives plan to conduct several interviews with contractors who were working on the building prior to the blaze.

Investigators are also looking at other possible causes, Tanna said, including roofing equipment left out overnight, fireworks and lightning.

Meanwhile, investigators ask that anyone with information about the fire to contact the sheriff's office at 910-323-1500 or the sheriff’s office tips line at 910-484-TIPS.

School officials have said they hope to have most repairs to the school complete when classes begin Aug. 25.

Repairs to the gym, however, likely will not be complete, and students will have to share the high school's gym.


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