College student Neil Gajare charged with arson

The Daily Pennsylvanian

By Emily Babay and Rebecca Kaplan

College student Neil Gajare has been arrested and charged with arson in connection with a fire in Rodin College House early yesterday morning.

Police were still processing Gajare’s case last night, and it was unclear whether he would be released on bail, according to the Philadelphia Police.

Police allege that Gajare, 22 and a Rodin resident, started the fire at about 2 a.m. yesterday by spraying a can of butane – the chemical found in butane lighters – and lighting it on fire with a cigarette lighter.

Police say Gajare was standing in the elevator bank on the 22nd floor, which caused material in a nearby recycling bin to catch fire.

The sprinkler system extinguished the fire but produced massive amounts of water, which caused damage to all four elevators and property throughout Rodin. The building was evacuated at 2:13 a.m.

No injuries were reported.

Gajare has been removed from the college house. The Vice Provost for University Life was evaluating his status as a student as of yesterday afternoon, though he was removed from the online Penn directory late last night.

Gajare previously attended Northwestern University, where he faced charges related to anti-Semitic graffiti found in a Northwestern dormitory in January 2006.

He was charged with institutional vandalism and felony criminal damage to property after anti-Semitic statements, two Swastikas and a rabbit were drawn throughout a dorm, according to The Daily Northwestern.

The resolution of those charges could not be determined last night. A Northwestern spokesman could not be reached late last night.

Penn spokeswomen did not return calls to their cell phones last night about Gajare’s status as a student or his past at Northwestern.

In the aftermath of the fire, Rodin residents crowded in the lobbies of Harnwell and Harrison college houses until they were able to return to their rooms at about 4:30 a.m.

All four elevators – which were brand new – were out of service until about 9 a.m., when one elevator was repaired, Division of Public Safety spokeswoman Stef Cella wrote in an e-mail.

These elevators will remain down until Otis, an elevator maintenance company, can come for repairs, according to Rodin House Dean Ken Grcich.

Water damage occurred in the hallways of floors 20 through 22, Grcich said.

It was unclear if the individual rooms sustained much damage, Penn Police Lt. Thomas Messner said early yesterday morning.

Vice President of Public Safety Maureen Rush expressed relief that the sprinkler system put out the fire.

“This individual could have killed up to 800 people in the high rises,” she said. “It’s really quite sad that someone would do that to his own community.”

Students who live in Rodin said they woke up to alarms and flooding.

Wharton senior Suhail Dar, who lives on the 22nd floor, said he woke up to a fire alarm at about 2:15 a.m., heard sprinklers going off and saw smoke.

College and Wharton senior Caleb Li, who also lives on the 22nd floor, said he heard screaming when the sprinklers went off.

When he exited his room, Li said, he saw about five or six firemen with axes near the trash chute. He said he and his roommates smelled smoke and saw ashes near the trash chute and the lounge on his floor.

College junior Ian Graves said the common room in his 21st-floor apartment was flooded. The Rodin first-floor lobby was also flooded.

Rush added that as police officers were searching the 22nd floor for a suspect after the fire was extinguished, they noticed that the smoke detectors in several rooms had been covered over with plastic, which disables the detectors and violates a building ordinance.

Investigations are under way for further violations.

Campus News Editor Rachel Baye and City News Editor Emily Schultheis contributed to this article.

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