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NYU Student Lit Classmate on Fire Then Videotaped Her Burning: Officials

By Gwynne Hogan | January 21, 2015 1:48pm
 Jamie Castano is accused of assault and reckless endagerment. 
Jamie Castano is accused of assault and reckless endagerment. 
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GREENWICH VILLAGE — An NYU student set a classmate on fire while she slept in his dorm bed, then sang and filmed her with his cellphone as she tried to put out the flames — a video that later appeared on Snapchat, authorities said. 

University officials admitted that they did not immediately report the bizarre Aug. 23 incident to police because the victim didn't want to involve the authorities. They apologized for the delay.

Manhattan prosecutors charged Jaime Castano, 20, a sophomore at the school who was studying to get his real estate license, with assault and reckless endangerment on Tuesday for the August incident.

When he was in custody, he told his mom that she "nothing to worry about" and that he had "nothing to hide."

According to the criminal complaint against Castano, a 19-year-old woman was asleep in his dorm room at 80 Lafayette St., near White Street, that night.

The dorm was the site of another incident in November 2013 when a student who had been drinking fell between two buildings. He was later rescued.

The victim in the August incident says she woke up around 6 a.m. the next morning and noticed painful burns on her torso and on the bed, according to court documents.

Castano, who police said was intoxicated, admitted to her that he had set her on fire during the night, according to court documents. He also allegedly told prosecutors that he had filmed the girl as she burned and sang as she made attempts to stifle the flames.

According to police, the accused man's roommate told police he saw a Snapchat of the bedroom blaze the next morning.

“I really don’t understand, I’m trying to make sense of all this,” Leena Heiman, Castano’s mother said from her Miami offices where she's the CEO of a cyber security company. “[The victim] was a very good friend of my son… In his right mind he would never hurt her.”

Heiman worried that life in New York City had been a drastic change for her son from his youth in Miami and Colombia. 

"He was a great student, he never drank, he never had alcohol," she said. "[He] had so many dreams... [and] worked so hard to get where he was." 

Heiman first got wind of the incident when Castano, who worked part-time at real estate firm Citi-Habitats, called her from custody on Tuesday.

"Don’t worry mom, you have nothing to worry about I have nothing to hide," Heiman recalled her son saying. 

While the incident occurred this summer, NYU waited until Oct. 27 to report it to authorities, according to police.

"The University, from the outset, took this case very seriously," said John Beckman, a spokesman for the university in a statement.

Castano was expelled and the victim didn't want to involve police, so NYU obeyed her wishes initially, Beckman said. He also admitted that in retrospect, the university should have gone to police much sooner.

"We are conducting a full investigation as to how a different decision was made in this case and clarifying our decision-making process so that cases like this are reported to the police immediately in the future," Beckman said.

The judge set bail at $25,000 cash or $50,000 bond. Castano is expected back in court this Friday. 

Citi Habitats said that Castano was fired.

“Upon learning about this incident, we immediately severed our association with this part-time agent,” the firm said in a statement.

A lawyer for Castano could not immediately be reached for comment.