Lawrence man arrested in connection with fire that destroyed Haskell tipi

photo by: Elvyn Jones

The poles of a tipi are pictured on the Haskell Indian Nations University campus on Saturday, May 9, 2020, after an overnight fire destroyed the structure. The tipi was built to honor Haskell's graduating class.

A Lawrence man was arrested Thursday afternoon in connection with a fire that destroyed a tipi meant to honor the 2020 graduating class of Haskell Indian Nations University.

The arrest came following an investigation by Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical, which announced Monday that it was working the case with the university, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Lawrence police arrested Ryan Adam Sekayouma Simpson, 32, just after 1 p.m. Thursday in the 2200 block of Massachusetts Street, according to the Douglas County Jail booking log. He was arrested on suspicion of intentional arson of a dwelling and two counts of criminal trespassing, according to the booking log.

“All agencies collaborated and maximized communication, which resulted in a quick investigation and arrest,” LDCFM Division Chief Tom Fagan said in a news release Thursday evening.

Firefighters had been called to the Haskell campus around 4:30 a.m. Saturday, Fagan said that day. Emergency crews arrived to find that the fire had consumed nearly all the covering on the tipi, and they put out the remaining flames with a handheld fire extinguisher, Fagan said.

It was not immediately clear Thursday whether Simpson had any connection to the university.

Ronald Graham, the new president of the university who just began in his role on Monday, had not yet heard the news when the Journal-World reached him by phone Thursday evening and said he hoped to have comment once he had more information on Friday.

The Haskell Foundation had launched a fundraiser to try to replace the tipi, the Journal-World reported on Sunday. By Monday, donations had surpassed the foundation’s goal of $3,000, according to a post on its Facebook page.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office generally does not release booking photos unless and until someone has been formally charged. It was not clear Thursday whether Simpson will be charged. Jail records describe him as a 5-foot-9 American Indian male with brown hair and brown eyes.

According to Kansas Department of Corrections records, Simpson has a 2016 conviction for burglary in a Douglas County case. Douglas County District Court records indicate that Simpson had pleaded guilty to one count of burglary, and charges of arson and theft were dismissed. He was released from probation in January, the records show.

As of Thursday afternoon, Simpson was being held without bond at the Douglas County Jail, according to the booking log.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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Related coverage

May 11, 2020: FBI, ATF helping with investigation into fire that destroyed Haskell tipi

May 10, 2020: Haskell Foundation starts fundraiser to replace tipi that burned Saturday

May 9, 2020: Fire destroys tipi honoring Haskell graduates; investigation underway


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