WATERVILLE — A 13-year-old girl was cleared of an arson charge involving a school evacuation following a recent bench trial in Waterville District Court.

Ashley Nelson, of Vassalboro, was accused of starting a fire inside a Vassalboro Community School bathroom last November. The fire forced evacuation of about 500 students and caused smoke and water damage.

“The judge determined that the state failed to prove its case against her,” Nelson’s attorney, David Geller, said Tuesday. “My client, her parents and I are all very pleased with the outcome.”

Nelson’s father, Don Nelson, said Ashley is back at the Vassalboro school.

He also said information came out at the trial showing that two other girls were in the bathroom at the same time as his daughter, and they left after she did.

Investigators quickly determined the fire, which started on a plastic toilet paper dispenser, was intentionally set. Four fire investigators from the state Fire Marshal’s Office spent two days at the school investigating the blaze. Nelson was charged the day after the fire.

Firefighters responded from Vassalboro, Winslow, China and Chelsea, and the fire was still burning in the bathroom when they got there. The fire was quickly extinguished.

The girl’s identity had been kept confidential until she was arraigned March 13 in Waterville District Court, when she denied the charge. Maine law allows juveniles accused of felony crimes to be identified in public court records when prosecutors file a petition with the court.

Judge Charles LaVerdiere issued a verdict of not responsible following an April 24 trial. Acting District Attorney Alan Kelley said that verdict is the juvenile system’s equivalent of being found not guilty.

Kelley said the evidence was not conclusive enough to link Ashley Nelson to the fire.

The prosecutor at trial was Assistant District Attorney David Jackson.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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