Dear Saddleback College family,
On Thursday afternoon I returned from a week of rafting through the Grand Canyon and learned for the first time about the tragic fire that occurred on our campus that took the life of student Jacob Mathews. Like you, I was devastated by this tragedy. Nothing breaks our hearts more than the sudden loss of one of our promising students. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jacob’s family and friends, and on Friday we reached out to the family to extend our deepest condolences and support for them during this most difficult time.
We all react to loss in different ways and I encourage you to reach out to your fellow students, colleagues, family, and friends during this stressful time. Please know that Saddleback College is here for you, and if you or anyone you know might need additional support, please take advantage of our many campus services such as: grief counseling and other services offered through our Counseling Services Division (949.582.4573) and Student Health Center (949.582.4606); our Crisis Intervention Hotline (949.348.6214); and our Employee Assistance Program (949.582.4898) which provides free and confidential counseling services for all college and South Orange County Community College District employees.
The fire caused significant damage to classroom 356 in our Business and General Studies Building (BGS). Immediately after the fire was contained, our college and district personnel began working around the clock to repair the damage and minimize the impact to students and faculty. All three floors of BGS are closed, but we expect to reopen the building on Monday, July 22nd and all classes originally located in BGS will resume as scheduled. In the meantime, temporary locations for all classes have been arranged and can be found on the home page of our college website at http://www.saddleback.edu/.
I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the outstanding leadership and efforts undertaken by many staff, management, and faculty at the college and district in dealing with this tragedy. Thanks to Vice Presidents Juan Avalos, Carol Hilton, and Kathy Werle for their leadership in guiding all aspects of the campus while I was beyond reach. Thanks to Trish Fain and the office of instruction along with the technology division and facilities and maintenance division for their hard work in relocating more than 130 classes. A big thank you also goes to Police Chief Chris Wilkinson and his officers and staff for their swift and professional response to this emergency and for being our college’s primary liaison to county authorities. I must also thank Jennie McCue, Amy Stevens, and Tere Fluegeman for their steady and timely communication efforts made to our college community. There are many other people that are playing critical roles at the college and district levels, and I want to thank each and every one of them for stepping up during this challenging period.
Finally, while we are grieving and working feverishly to bring our campus back to normal status, we are also continuing to cooperate with the Orange County Fire Authority and Orange County Sheriff who are conducting a thorough criminal investigation of the incident. On Friday, some of our college and district personnel met with the county’s investigation team who communicated to us how devastated the family is and asked that their privacy be respected. The team also stressed that no further information can be released until the criminal investigation has been concluded. For these reasons, I am asking our college community to respect and support the county’s process and please only provide constructive support and dispel any rumors while we wait for details. If you would like further information, please feel free to contact my office at 949.582.4722 and direct any media inquiries to our public information office at 949.582.4320.
Times like these underscore the critical importance of Saddleback College in our community and how we impact the lives of tens of thousands of people each and every day. The tremendous commitment and work of our faculty, staff, management, and community partners make a positive difference for all of us, and for this we are most appreciative.
Tod A. Burnett, Ed.D.