Students Rally Around N.C. Teacher Charged with Setting Fire

Investigators suspect the Graham High School teacher set a fire in an auditorium.


Feb. 26--Despite the arrest of their teacher Monday, a group of current and former Graham High School students are rallying behind Michael Shannon to show their support.

Taking mostly to online social media, the students have made it their mission to spread one main message: that they believe Shannon is innocent.

"We have to make a big deal out of it," said Victor Lagos, a junior at Graham who is a part of the theater department and who left the school with Shannon on Wednesday night. "That's the only thing we can do."

Shannon, 28, of 3551 Forestdale Drive, Burlington, was charged Monday with felony burning of a school house and felony common law obstruction of justice. Officials believe Shannon, a theater arts teacher at the high school, started a fire Wednesday night in the school's auditorium and told students to lie to investigators about what happened.

He was arrested at 7:35 p.m. Monday by the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office and was released from jail around 3:40 a.m. Tuesday after making his $25,000 bond.

Former student Kimberlin Torain said Shannon had been staying with his parents in Charlotte when he was arrested.

According to fire and police officials, the fire started sometime around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday after a group of students and Shannon had been in the auditorium rehearsing for an upcoming performance.

Capt. Steve McGilvray of the Graham Police Department said investigators believe an initial fire occurred in the auditorium before the arson "as a result of something they weren't supposed to be doing," though he would not say what caused it. After that fire went out, which happened fairly quickly, McGilvray said, Shannon intentionally set a second fire using rags and some type of accelerant before leaving the school.

McGilvray described the second fire as a "cover-up" for whatever had occurred in the auditorium prior to it.

Lagos said after play rehearsal that night, he left the school with Shannon, who gave him a ride to his mother's work. He noted that the fire alarm was going off at the time -- something he and other students say happens frequently at Graham High School, despite there usually being no fire -- but he and Shannon thought nothing of it.

LAGOS DESCRIBED Shannon as a "father figure" to him and his brother Jose, who is a senior at the school and is also involved in theater classes and productions.

Victor Lagos said Shannon talked with his mother for a few minutes about his grades before dropping him off, and then went back by the school to check on things. At that point, Lagos said, the fire department had arrived.

The next day, Shannon and Victor Lagos were interviewed at the Graham Police Department, Lagos said, and other students also were questioned at the school.

Shannon was placed on paid suspension Thursday, and his employment status remained unchanged Tuesday, said Jenny Faulkner, public information officer for the Alamance-Burlington School System. She said Shannon has been employed with ABSS since 2008.

Throughout that time, Jose Lagos said, Shannon had become a favorite teacher among theater students, and had intervened in ways that ranged from counseling suicidal teenagers to convincing students to get off drugs or not drop out of school.

"Mr. Shannon affected a lot of people," Jose Lagos said. "He impacted everybody's life."

Jose Lagos said Shannon was the reason he has remained in school through his senior year, and now wants to pursue a career in theater.

Some of the students attempted to start a petition at school Tuesday -- though its objective was not clear -- however administrators confiscated it, Jose Lagos said, calling it a disruption.

Still, the students have taken to social media since this past weekend in attempts to raise awareness about the charges Shannon faces. Tagging posts with #SaveShannon, students, former students and friends of Shannon wrote on Twitter and Facebook about the teacher -- announcing his innocence and asking others to spread the word.

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