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Janet Danahey: Her Life Before Campus Walk and After

4:15 AM, Feb 13, 2003   |    comments
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Janet Danahey says the Campus Walk fire inexplicably tied her to the families of those who died.

She was not much older than Ryan, Beth, Donna and Rachel when she set that fire, one year ago this week.

Tonight Janet talks about her life before the fire, her friends and the events that lead her to that balcony February 15, 2002.

WFMY News 2's Rosemary Plybon sat down with her for an exclusive interview at the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women.

"I grew up in Louisiana. It was a good childhood. I have really good parents," Janet says.

She "wanted to do anything pretty much that came into my path from writing to working with children, also being a pilot."

That path led Janet Danahey to the Piedmont.

"Kernersville is a wonderful little town bustled between the 2 cities, so you're able to have that small community feeling, but also be able to go and so exciting things. Not only that, but there's a great sense of home here."

A home she represented when she carried the Olympic torch in June 1996.

A WFMY News2 reporter said to her that day, "You've really touched the lives of thousands of people," and she replied, "I hope so, and they've touched mine too."

Janet graduated from East Forsyth High School.

"Then I went to Appalachian State for a semester. I love the area. I love Boone, but it was a little too condensed for me."

So she came home, enrolling at UNCG. She studied writing, and spent free time with friends.

"I think the advent that brought me to where I am is my friends during school, actually film majors. We always talked about shooting films and stuff like that. For instance my friends would do short films for their end of semester projects and we would video tape acting scenes and things like that. The week before my crime my friend set a beanbag on fire in the parking lot and let's videotape someone skating over it, we did stuff like that."

She says that's where she got the idea to set a fire.

"I don't know why we thought it was funny, but I guess at the time, the situation and the people we hung out with, we thought it would be."

The fire Janet set destroyed Campus Walk Apartments took the lives of two college students and 2 recent graduates.

"I had a dream that the apartment complex was completely glass and I was walking up to it and as I was walking through the stairs, everyone who lived there was kind of just sitting around, there was no furniture, it was just a big glass building and every time I would walk up a stair they would look at me and give me this look of how could you? I remember in the dream walking up to the apartment of the four victims, and they looked at me and they waved, and then they flew away."

"I think, I am 24 years old. how could I have been so dumb to think this was funny, and not hurt anybody?"

As Janet tries to come to terms with the past, she looks to the future for how she might still make a difference.

"I think in time people will forgive me, but it doesn't matter where I spend my life. It's that I eventually get people to understand that I didn't mean to do what I did, and I wish to make it better."

"I would hope that other kids that see my case would learn from it and say, when they were about to do something stupid, they will think back and say I don't want to end up like Janet did."

Janet was a devoted daughter and sister, an honored community volunteer, a young woman with big dreams, and small chance of ever living them now.

"I hope people have learned from my mistakes."

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