Editor of Alt-Weekly Quits After Apartment Fire

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By: E&P Staff

The editor of an alternative weekly in Columbia, S.C. has resigned in the aftermath of a suspicious fire in his apartment that he says was set by an arsonist.

Corey Hutchins said he returned home from the holidays over the weekend to discover that his Columbia apartment had been broken into and parts of it set ablaze. Nothing from the apartment was stolen, but books, apparel ,and bedding were destroyed or suffered smoke damage. A police report obtained by E&P confirms the incident.

“Every week people get upset by the stuff we write about,” Hutchins said in a statement. “But I didn’t think anyone would try to burn down my house.”

The police, who are investigating, have not yet confirmed the arson.

In November, Garnet & Black, the University of South Carolina’s student-run magazine, quoted Hutchins: “The first thing my journalism professor at the State University of New York did when I told her I was going to after graduation was shake her head. ‘I don’t think your sense of humor will go well down there,’ she said. ‘Honestly, I think you’ll be killed.'” This statement also appears on the Columbia paper?s Web site.

Hutchins? analysis of the crime scene caused him to propose this possible scenario: The arsonist entered through the side door of the house, then turned on the stove. A pile of jackets and scarves from a nearby clothes rack were thrown on the hot burners. The arsonist went upstairs. In the bedroom, a bedside lamp was knocked on the bed and stuffed with toilet paper. The lamp was turned on and thrust under the comforter. The blankets smoldered, but the fire never caught on. Downstairs, a pile of textbooks and a perfume bottle was thrown on the stovetop, fueling the fire. Flaming clothes and books dropped to the floor, igniting the linoleum. Heat from the flames damaged the window blinds.

“You think of all the dangerous professions in the world and you don’t think journalism,” Hutchins said.

Columbia City Paper Publisher Paul F. Blake said in a statement that the possible act of arson is tantamount to censorship. “We are a new business who broke even four months in, and I just don’t know what we’ll to do from here,” he said. “This may be an indication that this town just isn’t ready for — or doesn’t want something new and different.”

Columbia City Paper was founded in August and met with criticism. “I think in any other city in America, we wouldn’t have to constantly battle places like bars and other locations where our papers are being discarded and flat-out banned,” Blake said in his statement. “I think that’s a serious censorship issue even on such a small level. Oh, and then there’s the burning of our editor’s house.”

Columbia City Paper, according to the publisher, drew fire from the University of South Carolina after reporting on a sexual discrimination lawsuit, “and upset government officials in December when it published the governor’s private telephone, fax and home line on a front-page editorial about the death penalty and the governor’s execution of the 1,001st person in the States since capital punishment was allowed to recommence in 1977.”

When the police showed up at the house after the fire, “they asked me if I had any enemies,” Hutchins said. “I told them I was the editor of the Columbia City Paper. I didn’t exactly have to provide them with a list is what I’m saying.”

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