West Baltimore school's playground destroyed in arson fire one day after receiving more federal resources for students

Just days after federal officials announced funding to boost up mental health resources for students at Matthew A. Henson Elementary School, someone burned down their playground.

Fire crews responded to the West Baltimore school around 5 p.m. Saturday, where they found the school's playground engulfed in flames and heavy black smoke, according to a fire department spokesman Sam Johnson.


Officials said smoke was visible from at least three blocks away from the school's Payson Street location – where federal and local leaders gathered Friday to celebrate a $2.375 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Among those who attended were Maryland lawmakers U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and U.S. Rep Elijah Cummings.


"This reinforces what Friday was about," said David Guzman, principal of Matthew Henson. "We need a myriad of services and options to keep our scholars' minds active and focused on positive outcomes."

The grant will fund full-time mental health clinicians and other services at Matthew Henson and 12 other schools in West Baltimore impacted by the unrest in April 2015 following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, whose death last year from injuries sustained in police custody sparked rioting in Baltimore.

Gray attended Matthew Henson Elementary, and visited there weeks before his death.

Fire investigators said the origin of the fire was the burning rubber mulch on the ground near the playground that spread to the playground equipment. The cause of the fire was determined to be arson.

Police officials said they continue to investigate the fire, which caused about $10,000 in damage.

The fire was extinguished and placed under control in about 10 to 15 minutes, officials said, but city school officials said it will take roughly four to six months to rebuild the playground.

Police are encouraging anyone with information to call Metro Crime Stoppers: 1-866-7-LOCK-UP