Alumna is charged with four counts of arson

By Bourree Lam

A University of Chicago alumna has been charged with the four incidents of arson on campus last week. Mount Prospect, Illinois resident Julita Groszko, 31, was charged with two counts of aggravated arson, three counts of attempted aggravated arson, and felony criminal damage to property, according to a press release Friday morning from the Chicago Police Department (CPD).

Groszko appeared before a judge on Friday and was ordered held on $1 million bail.

According to the CPD, Groszko’s motive for arson was that she had been under a lot of stress because her undergraduate chemistry degree she obtained last spring had not translated into a job, and she believed she had worked too hard at the University. Groszko entered the University in fall of 1993 and stayed until spring of 1996. She returned in the summer of 2004 and graduated in spring 2005.

Larry Arbeiter, the University’s spokesperson, along with detectives and arresting officers involved in the investigation from CPD and UCPD attended a CPD press conference Friday morning. All parties worked closely together on the case.

Groszko was apprehended by undercover officers last Wednesday, after police conducted interviews with several witnesses who described a woman with bright blond hair behaving strangely.

A UCPD police officer observed a woman who matched the description near the Chicago Theological Seminary and noticed an odor of gasoline. The release said the officer called for assistance, and Groszko was detained.

Groszko was in possession of a canvas bag containing a half-full can of gasoline. She was turned over to CPD Bomb and Arson detectives and admitted to setting the series of small fires on campus last week.

Groszko is alleged to have set all four fires: a door in Swift Hall, a table outside Kent hall, a bottle in a Ryerson Hall elevator, and a stack of papers in a wall-mounted mailbox in Eckhart Hall.

“Although the fires were certainly unsettling for the University community, I think that most people were reassured by the rapid response of the Chicago firefighters, and also by the obvious presence on the quads of the University’s police department and their very professional work in apprehending the suspect,” Arbeiter said in an interview.

Prosecutors are seeking conviction on aggravated arson because there were people in the buildings, authorities said. Groszko is scheduled to appear in Felony Court on November 23.