Former student arraigned for fire

Amanda Morris, Contributing Writer

Former NYU student Jaime Castano was arraigned Jan. 20 facing charges of first-degree assault and first-degree reckless endangerment after Castano set another student on fire. The arraignment comes months after the incident, which occurred on Aug. 23. The reason behind the attack is still unknown.

According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the victim fell asleep with one other person present inside Castano’s dorm room in Lafayette Street Residence Hall at approximately 11 p.m. when Castano set the victim’s bed on fire.

The court complaint reads, “The defendant admitted to her in substance that he was responsible for setting fire to the comforter and causing her injuries.”

As the victim burned, Castano sang and took a video on his cell phone, which he later posted to social media. He recorded her waking up and attempting to put out the flames. The victim fully woke up at approximately 6 a.m. the next day, covered in painful burns and scars across her torso. It is unclear whether the residence hall smoke detectors went off.

Tisch freshman Kendall Dupre’ said she could not make sense of the incident.

“I was honestly shocked when I heard this story, wondering who would do such a thing and why an act that horrifying would be committed,” DuPre’ said.

Though the incident occurred Aug. 23 and was reported to the university several days later, police were not notified until Oct. 27. NYU spokesperson John Beckman said the delay was due to the victim’s reluctance to report the incident.

“From the very beginning, the University spoke with the victim about involving the police,” Beckman said. “It has been the University’s practice to give a significant degree of deference to a victim’s wishes regarding involving law enforcement. When, after some time, the victim ultimately indicated a wish to go to the police, the University accompanied her.”

Steinhardt freshman Janelle Pitts said she was unsatisfied with the delay in reporting the incident.

“I’m disappointed by the way the university handled the situation,” Pitts said. “The incident definitely should’ve been reported to the police immediately.”

Beckman said the University took the case seriously from the beginning, however, and immediately pursued disciplinary action against Castano, who was expelled. Castano had been studying technology and business at NYU and planned to pursue a career in real estate. After the incident, Castano began working as an agent for Citi Habitats but no longer works for them. Castano’s mother, Leena Heiman, who also works in real estate, declined to comment.

Looking back, Beckman said he believes the university should have promptly reported the incident to the police and is now changing its decision-making process so that in the future, events like these are reported immediately.

Nevertheless, Beckman said the role of the university in incidents like these is to provide help, support the victim and hold the rule-violator responsible.

Castano and his attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Jan. 26 print edition. Email Amanda Morris at [email protected].