PEQUOT, SD --- Chanting "Die, die, die," the crowd of rage-maddened parents watched Pequot High School teacher Jake Rodham's house burn to the ground. The twenty-year teaching veteran, a math instructor in the controversy-riddled South Dakota school district, escaped with his life by hiding in a basement fall-out shelter his father had built in the early ‘sixties. Community members accuse Rodham of taking correct answers and school rules too seriously.
Pequot fire chief Stan Branstadt stated the house could have been saved had it not for the many roadblocks that had been set up. How exactly the fire started remains as of yet unclear, but he is strongly convinced the fire was set deliberately.
"Judging by all the blockages and the angry, chanting people on the man's property, I think it's pretty safe to say it was arson," he explained, adding that a full inquiry will determine just how and when the fire started.
Rodham emerged from the wreckage of his house physically unharmed, but emotionally devastated.
"I've lost everything," he sobbed, burying his face in his hands. "My furniture, the pictures of my deceased wife. My medals and leg prosthesis, too. All gone."
A highly decorated Gulf War veteran, he lost his right leg while saving the lives of two wounded comrades.
But Rodham's Gulf War accomplishments earn him little sympathy with local parents, who feel their children's grades should not be lowered just because they get a few answers wrong on the test.
"So (my son) Preston ain't no rocket scientist," Jenna Paxton said. "Why does this man have to take his anger out on him? It's not like math is all that important anyway."
Paxton added that she was at home watching a ball game, and that she had no idea who might be involved in the attack.
Home-Economics instructor Janet Zalewsky offers a different assessment of Rodham.
"He doesn't really strike me as an angry person. Actually, I would say he is rather soft-spoken," she said.
But Ray Knudsen, local P.T.A. president, doesn't give Zalewsky's words much credence.
"Heck, the woman was suspended for drinking at work," he said. "I was at home watching the ballgame, and I have no idea who set the man's house on fire. But I sure don't feel sorry for him."