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Viterbo student arrested on arson charge in weekend incident

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - A fire Sunday morning at a residence hall on the Viterbo University campus leads to the arrest of a student on an arson charge.

Rick Trietley, the Executive Vice President for Student Success at Viterbo, said that everyone in Marian Hall was able to get out safely when fire alarms went off shortly after 2 a.m. No injuries were reported.

By the time the La Crosse Fire Department arrived, campus security had put out the fire which was found in a second floor lounge trash receptacle.

The fire department said in a statement that there was a large amount of smoke in the building which they helped ventilate.

There was minor damage around the garbage can, carpet, and wall.

Based on a subsequent investigation including looking at surveillance video by fire department investigators, police, and the university, a student, Victoria Unanka, was arrested on charges of arson and mishandling of flammable objects.

In the police report, she said admitted she started the fire and said to investigators that "no one was listening to me anymore." The report said she turned a stove top on and left the lounge area and went to the bathroom. Unanka said several minutes later she had a change of heart and didn't want to start the building on fire. When she returned to the lounge, she found old food remnants smoking on the stove top. She said she used disposable paper towels to try to clean up the mess. The towels caught on fire. She said they thought the flames were out when she put the towels in the trashcan and went back to her room.

After her arrest, she was released on a $1,000 signature bond.

Trietley said Unanka was removed from campus on Sunday.

He said they're still looking into whether Sunday's incident is connected to recent racial incidents on campus.

The university has coordinated meetings with residents of Marian Hall and with the full student body on Sunday afternoon.

On Monday afternoon, Viterbo President Glenna Temple issued a statement on the incident.

“We are relieved no students or staff were harmed during the fire Sunday at Marian Hall. We are grateful for the quick actions of Kaleb Peterson, our campus safety officer who extinguished the blaze before it could spread beyond the student lounge.

“Further, I want to thank the La Crosse Police Department and La Crosse Fire Department for their immediate response and assistance. The safety, health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff are always our top priority. The student arrested in this incident is no longer on campus and has travelled home.”

“This is a complex situation that involves a series of concerning incidents. We continue to investigate the incidents earlier in the semester and any potential link between them and this fire. The investigation includes numerous interviews, handwriting analysis by an FBI certified analyst, the installation of additional security cameras, and an increased security presence.”

“We remain concerned about the student’s well-being and we will continue to work with her and her family. 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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