- Associated Press - Friday, March 14, 2014

DICKINSON, N.D. (AP) - Kelly Daniel knows the Trinity High School in Dickinson well. She attended it from kindergarten to graduation, and is sending her three children through the same program.

But her two older students will finish this school year in makeshift classrooms set up in public elementary schools because someone set fire to their high school last week.

Daniel doesn’t blame administrators at the private Catholic school for hiring the principal, who police say is responsible, and said there’s no way anyone could’ve predicted this. But the situation has left her a little more jaded.

“It makes you think twice, now, about who you can and cannot trust,” she said. “And that’s the sad thing about it.”

Several community members say parents, especially those that have lived in the community for most of their lives, are having a difficult time dealing with the fire that will leave the school closed for the remainder of the year.

Thomas Sander, the now-former principal at Trinity High School in Dickinson, faces charges of arson and endangerment by fire or explosion, both felonies that carry a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison. The criminal complaint against the 30-year-old Dickinson man alleges he set the contents of a file cabinet in the vault portion of the school’s administrative office on fire. No motive is mentioned in the complaint.

No injuries were reported at the school, and a resident at an apartment on the second floor of the school building was not hurt.

School administrators say the future of the building is unclear, and it will be some time before they know what’s next.

Many community members said the fire that scorched the high school was one of the biggest incidents to hit the small town in recent history and say it’ll take time for them to recover.

“I think everybody knows it’s going to take some time to get our feet underneath us,” said Steve Irsfeld, who owns a local pharmacy and has a daughter at Trinity.

Steve Glasser, the president of the local Catholic school system, said the incident can cut a little deeper with parents.

Glasser said that when families returned to the high school this week so students could pick up their belongings, it was the parents who were crying, not their children.

But despite the harrowing, unexpected circumstances thrust on this tight-knit Catholic community in western North Dakota, nearly everyone said the community is working to move the students and school system forward.

And although Sander remains innocent until proven guilty, Daniel said she feels sorry for the man, someone she and her family knew well.

“We just always taught our kids to seek out the good in everybody, and my children did do that,” she said. “They did seek out the good in him.”

And now, she said, “We need to pray for him.”

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