Police allege the head custodian of St. Joseph's College, an all-girl private Catholic school, cut a gas line and helped light a stove in an attempt to cause an explosion.
Shortly before 8 a.m. on Thursday, some students and staff were already in the school that offers a breakfast program. Kitchen workers smelled gas and pulled the fire alarm that brought emergency workers.
According to Toronto Police [PDF], they received the call at 7:50 a.m., reporting the gas leak. Police and other emergency personnel arrived at the private school, located in a high density area near a major downtown Toronto intersection. They determined a gas line was intentionally severed.
Police allege the head custodian entered the school around 7 a.m., cut the line, then went into the kitchen to help staff light the stove.
Vincent Perna, 67, has been charged with break and enter with intent, mischief under, mischief endangering life, common nuisance, attempted murder, and attempted arson: disregard for human life.
The students and staff already in the school were safely evacuated. Thanks to the Twittersphere, students who had not yet arrived at school were informed about the gas leak. The students were allowed into the school in the afternoon after the gas had been turned off, but were let go early because of the lingering odour.
The Toronto Star reports staff, students, and parents were shocked when they heard about Perna's arrest. Anna Tyzler, whose daughter is a Grade 12 student at the school, described the custodian as "very pleasant and nice. He volunteered his time on weekends...The nicest person I could speak to and hence the reason I was in complete shock."
John Yan, a spokesperson for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, told the National Post that Perna had worked at St. Joseph's for 15 years and there were no previous disputes. Yan said, "By all accounts, he was a model employee. He has no previous record of problems with the school."
Perna had worked for the Catholic board for 30 years and was close to retirement.
Students were unaware of Perna's arrest until Friday afternoon when they were given letters to take home. The letters, also posted online, said Perna is entitled to the presumption of innocence and advised that counsellors will be available for students on Monday.
Perna made his first court appearance yesterday.