Last night, police were hunting a man named as Garnet Stephen Seabrook Bell, 46, an unemployed former pupil of Sullivan Upper Grammer School in Holywood, Co Down, where the attack took place. Police, who warned people not to approach Mr Bell, said the attack was motiveless and 'bizarre'. It appeared to have no political or sectarian overtones.
The incident will reopen fears about school security. Schools in Northern Ireland are regarded as safe havens for children. Most have little or no daytime security measures.
Earlier this year, a girl was stabbed to death by a man who burst into her school in Middlesbrough, Cleveland. Teaching unions say attacks on staff and pupils have grown sharply in recent years.
More than thirty pupils were sitting A- level exams in the Sullivan school assembly hall yesterday morning when a man, dressed in a boiler suit and carrying what looked like a fire extinguisher, came in. A schoolboy said: 'He lit the fire extinguisher and pivoted round the place and just sprayed everybody with a big ball of fire. I could see two or three boys rolling around the floor in flames. I just ran out as quick as I could.'
Nicholas Dell, another pupil, added: 'He was just spraying it everywhere. People were on fire and clambering for the door. It was just complete blind panic, scrambling for the door with a fireball coming down the room.'
Last night, three boys were still in hospital. One was very seriously ill but stable while the other two were described as serious but stable.
Mr Bell, unmarried, is said to have lived alone since the death of his mother a year ago. Later yesterday, a summerhouse owned by Mr Bell's brother in another part of Co Down was set on fire.
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