A student at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin said she had been the victim of racist incidents. On the night of April 18, she reportedly texted a friend to say that a small fire that began in her residence hall must have been targeted at her because it began next to her room.
When police investigated the fire and reviewed security footage, they discovered that it was the same student who set the fire. Victoria Unanka was then arrested for arson but released on a signature bond.
Viterbo president Glena Temple said that the university was still investigating Unanka’s earlier claims of victimhood.
“This is a complex situation that involves a series of concerning incidents,” Temple said, according to the La Crosse Tribune. “We continue to investigate the incidents earlier in the semester and any potential link between them and this fire.”
The La Crosse Fired Department arrived on campus around 2:30 a.m. on April 18, where a fire had been reported at Marian Hall in the second-floor lounge. The fire was easily put out with a fire extinguisher, though the fired department said there was a “fair amount” of smoke damage and that ventilation was required. The department also reported minor damage to a wall and a bit of carpet. The fire was small enough not to trigger the sprinkler system.
Unanka allegedly told police she had been with her friends the night of the fire and returned home around midnight, at which time she made some food and went to the lounge to wash her hands. She said she didn’t go anywhere else in the residence hall before returning to her room. She also told police she didn’t see anything suspicious prior to the fire. Once the alarm went off, she said she and a friend knocked on doors to get other students out of the building.
When police reviewed security footage of the residence hall, however, they noticed inconsistencies in Unanka’s claims. Surveillance footage showed Unanka left her room at about 2:09 a.m. and began checking to see if other people were present. In the next five minutes, Unanaka goes into the lounge area and a bathroom before going back to her room. At 2:14 a.m., smoke could be seen on the camera footage. Unanka then began knocking on residents’ doors and pulled the fire alarm herself.
It was a resident adviser who told police that Unanka texted a friend to say the fire was yet another hate crime against her.
When police noted the inconsistencies between Unanka’s version of events and the security footage, she changed her story and admitted she intended to set the fire. She claimed she quickly decided against the fire and went back to the lounge after she went to the bathroom and attempted to clean up the smoking remnants of old food on the stove. She said the paper towels she used caught fire and she shook them out to try to extinguish the flames. She then tossed them in the garbage can.
She told police she was frustrated that “no one was listening to me anymore,” purportedly about her other claims of being the victim of racist incidents.
Viterbo president Temple told the Tribune that Unanka had left campus.
“We remain concerned about the student’s well-being, and we will continue to work with her and her family,” Temple said. “In addition, we continue to hold listening sessions and expanded student support services to assist all our students during these difficult times.”
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