The Mississippi Delta Community College administration did not have much of a break this holiday season.
Most of it was spent trying to move offices and personnel to different areas on campus so that college business could continue as normal as possible when students return for classes next week.
MDCC’s president, who announced retirement plans this fall, made the decision to rescind that resignation and stay on for at least another year at the college.
All of this was because of an arson/robbery incident on Dec. 14 that left large sections the Stauffer-Wood Administration Building burned, along with an MDCC van.
The apparent suspect, caught on camera committing the act, left little in terms of clues for the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the State Fire Marshal’s office, the two agencies in charge of the investigation.
Last Friday, the MDCC board called a special meeting at the college to discuss the fire and Nabors’ decision to stay on.
“This college has suffered a malicious act,” said MDCC Board President Paula Sykes during the meeting. “MDCC has a long history of love for the Mississippi Delta and love for its students. I’m struggling with anger this morning about the malicious act and the burning of our building.”
The Stauffer-Wood building, which was once the National Guard Armory facility in Moorhead, contained the highest of administrative offices on campus, including Nabors’ and the communications team.
Due to the ongoing investigation into the crimes committed in mid-December, and the lengthy process of either renovating or rebuilding the administration offices, the board decided by vote on Friday to declare an emergency at MDCC.
This declaration will allow the college to make needed purchases when it comes to things like equipment in a more timely manner.
Several thousand dollars worth of computer and camera equipment was either damaged or stolen during the incident.
Nabors Staying On
Nabors had spent decades as an educator in the state of Mississippi before he announced his retirement in November.
His plans were to return to his home in Ripley, where he would do some fishing and also continue his lifelong hobby of working on his favorite cars.
All of those plans have been put on hold, though, after Nabors announced during Friday’s meeting his desire to see MDCC through this troubled time.
“One of the things my parents taught me was to always leave a situation better than you found it,” Nabors said during the meeting. “I don’t think this is a good time to bring in a new president. With the fire, this will drag out for longer than six months I’m sure…I don’t want to leave the college in a bad situation.”
Nabors received an ovation from the board after the motion was approved.
“The school means a lot to me,” Nabors said during an interview with The Enterprise-Tocsin. “It postpones me for a year, but it’s not a big deal.”
Sykes was very happy to announce Nabors’ return but pointed out the sacrifice of his return.
“For those of you who enjoy the state retirement system, you will understand what a financial sacrifice this is,” she said. “It’s going to take big shoulders to carry us through what I anticipate us going through.”
What We Know About the Crime
Though no indication exists that there was a specific office targeted in the December blaze, Nabors said the perpetrator spent the majority of his time in the south corridor of the building.
“They did target the south hall,” Nabors told the board. “They were in the building for about 45 minutes to an hour, and they stayed nearly the whole time on that south wing of the building.”
Nabors said the window of one of the doors was broken out, so he assumes the perpetrator made entry into the building by breaking the window and pressing the panic bar on the door.
There was a camera system in place – which caught the majority of the act in progress – but there was no alarm system on the building.
Nabors said the origin of the fire appeared to be in the office of Alan Crews, Assistant to the Associate Vice President for College Advancement & Public Relations.
Crews’ office contained the paper files for the MDCC Foundation, which Nabors said were destroyed.
The suspect appears in the video to pour some type of accelerant throughout the building.
Nabors said this week he believes anything that could have been used as an accelerant that was already in the building - such as paint thinner - is accounted for.
Due to renovations, however, the school had already relocated Associate Vice President of College Advancement & Public Relations Reed Abraham to another part of the building that was not damaged a week prior, and his computer and all of the electronic records are intact.
Nabors said other portions of the building, including the board room, received heavy water and smoke damage but were not burned as badly as the south hall.
It appears that after the fire was set inside the building, the perpetrator used a key obtained from an office desk to access an MDCC vehicle.
Nabors said it was driven between a quarter and a half mile to a road located near abandoned railroad tracks on Highway 3, and it was set on fire.
The vehicle, according to Nabors was a total loss.
As of now, Nabors said there are no definite suspects in the case.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the State Fire Marshal’s office are heading the investigation and have a $5,000 reward offer for information leading to an arrest in the arson.
Doug Russell, with Indianola Insurance, told the board last week that once the insurance company has in hand a declaration that the fire was the result of arson, it should kick in a much larger reward.
Russell said the policy dictates the reward at 10 percent of total loss to the building, capped at $100,000.
Nabors said this week that he has obtained the report declaring the fire the result of arson, but as of Wednesday, it had not been given to the insurance company.
Russell also informed the board that MDCC has Extra Expense coverage that has a $10 million limit.
“I don’t expect us to use that limit, but we do have it available to us,” he said.
MDCC has hired 24-hour security to watch the burned administration building, something Russell said could be paid for out of the Extra Expense policy.
MDCC can also use Extra Expense to potentially pay for temporary office space, storage, equipment, among other things the college will likely need during this time.
Whether the administration building is a total loss or will require a massive renovation, Nabors expects MDCC will come out of this situation with a better structure.
“It will be good either way it goes,” Nabors said. “We’ll have a nicer facility either way it turns out.”
When Nabors arrived at MDCC in 2013, the school did not have a student union.
The board’s special meeting last week was held in the 11,600-square-foot student union Nabors spearheaded as one of his first major projects at the college.