Seton Hall

The Cops are Rattled

Most of the guys in that room had been deeply rattled by what had happened that morning, authorities have said. The sight of young men and women being carted from the dorm with seared flesh hanging from their bodies touched them, though they didn't admit it at the time.

The most veteran fire investigators among them tried not to think about it, but they knew what was coming. They had seen it all before, kids who might as well be Dana Christmas, lying unconscious in antiseptic tents in an intensive care unit while their burns oozed puss into yellowing bandages. They had heard the screams of kids like Tom Pugliese as grim nurses and doctors dunked them into vats of cold water and painfully scrubbed away yards of dying flesh. The worst thing about it was that anyone of those kids could have been any one of their kids. And whoever had set the fire, for whatever stupid or malicious reason, they could have been their kids too.

Sean Ryan
Sean Ryan
At that moment, the cops say now, they still had the capacity for mercy. As one veteran investigator, who describes himself as both a cop and father, not necessarily in that order, said in a recent interview, "in the beginning, if the kids had come back and said we were a little bit shit-faced... and the thing got out of control... we were just playing around, it was an accidental thing, it [would have been] a totally different thing than what we're looking at now... as a parent that's the way I would feel. As a law enforcement officer that"s the way I would feel."

But Sean Ryan and Joe LaPore had, authorities now contend, no intention of telling investigators any more than they had to.

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