A student at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin, claims she had been the victim of racist incidents, including arson. However, police discovered that the alleged victim of framed hate crimes was the one caught on surveillance video starting the fire in the university's residence hall.
Viterbo University student Victoria Unanka is reported to have texted a friend on April 18, claiming that a small fire started in the girl's residence hall must have been directed towards herself because it began in the next room over.
When police investigated the fire and reviewed security footage, authorities discovered that it was the same student who set the fire.
Unanka was then arrested for arson and negligent handling of burning materials but released on signature bond, the La Cross Tribune reported.
She is alleged to have told police she had been with friends the night of the fire and returned home around midnight when she prepared food and then went to the lounge to clean up. Unanka said she didn't go anywhere else in the residence hall before returning to the dorm room. She also told police she didn't see anything suspicious prior to the fire. Once the alarm went off, she said she and another friend knocked on doors to get other students to evacuate the building.
Upon the police's arrival, several students were discussing concerns that the fire was another hate crime incident. But when police reviewed security footage, which had been installed after reports of racist and threatening graffiti, of the residence hall, law enforcement noticed inconsistencies in Unanka's claims.
The surveillance video showed Unanka left the dorm room at about 2:09 a.m. and began checking to see if other residents were present. In the next five minutes, Unanaka walks into the lounge area and uses the bathroom before returning to the dorm room. Smoke could be seen on the camera footage at 2:14 a.m. Unanka then began knocking on doors and pulled the fire alarm herself, the video reveals.
The La Crosse Fired Department arrived on campus around 2:30 a.m. on the day when the fire was reported at Marian Hall in the second-floor lounge.
The fire, small enough not to trigger the sprinkler system, was extinguished with ease. Fire department officials reported minor damages to the wall and carpet, "fair amount" of smoke damage, and that ventilation was required.
A resident adviser told police that Unanka texted another friend to say the fire was yet another hate crime perpetrated against herself.
When police questioned Unanka's version of events and what the security footage displayed, she changed the storyline and then admitted she intended to set the fire.
She claimed she 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 the tissue in the garbage can.
Unanka told police that she was frustrated that "no one was listening to me anymore" regarding the student's other allegations of race-based hate crimes.
Viterbo University president Glena Temple said that the school was still investigating Unanka's earlier claims of victimhood. "This is a complex situation that involves a series of concerning incidents," Temple told the La Crosse Tribune, noting that the university will continue to investigate the incidents earlier in the semester and any potential link between the events and the fire in question.
Temple told the local publication that Unanka had left the campus and traveled home. Campus security notified police the staff intended to give Unanka several hours to pack before leaving campus on administrative suspension.
Unanka spoke at the on-campus Black Lives Matter rally in March where hundreds of students rallied around the black student. She claimed that the freshman's own dorm room door was vandalized twice in one week with messages of racial hate. At the conclusion of the aforementioned investigation, forensic handwriting analysis eliminated several suspects, leaving one "person of interest" responsible.
"The remaining person of interest will no longer be part of the Viterbo campus community," Temple said via press statement. A definitive handwriting match could not be established though. La Crosse Police Department will continue to explore any new evidence that may emerge in the aftermath.
Viterbo University later decided to expel the student found responsible for the fire once the internal probe was completed. It's still unclear by the university's statement whether the person responsible for the arson and the person of interest for the graffiti are the same student, the La Crosse Tribune reported.
Unanka claimed she felt out-of-place in society and told how to act in the "white community" and watch what she says. "Victoria don't drive on the road because the cop could stop you and arrest you," Unanka parroted.
"Victoria befriend white people so they don't say you're racist or anything. Victoria do this. Victoria do that," she continued, alleging there's immense pressure on black kids these days.
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