Nine-year-old charged with murder in 5 Illinois fire deaths

EUREKA, Ill. — A 9-year-old child accused of causing a mobile home fire that killed three children and two adults in central Illinois has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder.

The juvenile also was charged with two counts of arson and one count of aggravated arson, the (Peoria) Journal Star reported.

The April 6 fire killed a 1-year-old, two 2-year-olds, a 34-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman at the Timberline Mobile Home Park near the village of Goodfield, about 150 miles (240 kilometres) southwest of Chicago.

Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger would not reveal other details about the suspect, including a possible relationship to the victims.

No child as young as this one has been accused in a mass killing since at least 2006, according to the AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database. It tracks all U.S. homicides since then in which four or more people were killed (not including the offender) over a short period of time (24 hours), regardless of weapon, location, victim-offender relationship or motive.

Minger said he scoured multiple reports on the fire before proceeding with prosecution. Woodford County Coroner Tim Ruestman said the fire was started intentionally.

“It was a heavy decision,” Minger said. “It’s a tragedy, but at the end of the day, it’s charging a very young person with one of the most serious crimes we have. But I just think it needs to be done at this point, for finality.”

A leading Illinois advocate for children ensnared in the criminal justice system sharply criticized the decision to charge a child that young with murder.

“The charges are completely out of line, given everything we have learned … especially about the brain development of children,” said Betsy Clark, the president of Juvenile Justice Initiative, based in Evanston, Illinois.

Clark spoke to The Associated Press Tuesday by phone from New York, where she was attending the official release of a United Nations report on the prosecution of children. It recommends that children under 14 should never be prosecuted, no matter the crime.

Clark said 14 is the minimum age of criminal responsibility in many countries, including Germany.

In the 1890s, Illinois became among the first places in the world to establish a juvenile court, thereby taking minors out of the adult system, Clark said. But the case announced this week shows Illinois is no longer on the cutting age of juvenile justice, she said.

“We used to be a world leader and now we are so far behind,” she said.

Charges alleging violent crimes against children are rare, said Clark, adding that she hasn’t heard of other cases in which someone that young was charged with so many killings.

If convicted, the child could be placed on probation for at least five years but not beyond the age of 21, Minger said. Therapy and counselling would be likely.

“Probation, given the age, is about the only outcome that could happen here,” he said.

No arrest warrant is to be issued for the suspect, Minger said. The suspect will be appointed an attorney and will be subject to a bench trial, in front of a judge, he said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kenney pledges $100M toward Red Deer hospital improvements

Premier Jason Kenney has committed $100 million toward improvements at Red Deer… Continue reading

RDC athlete apologizes for racist slur

A Red Deer College athlete has apologized for using a racial slur… Continue reading

Innisfail man killed in single-vehicle collision

RCMP said car hit a pole just northwest of Innisfail early on Wednesday

Sylvan Lake senior injured when ambulance gurney flips at Red Deer hospital

A Sylvan Lake senior suffered a number of injuries on her way… Continue reading

VIDEO: Grumpy sea lion resists help back to water in Washington state

Crews were able to coax her into a crate to carry her back to water

Your community calendar

Feb. 19 A Liberation of Holland event is being held at the… Continue reading

David Marsden: Finally, a healthy prognosis for our hospital

The announcement of $100 million toward improvements to Red Deer Regional Hospital… Continue reading

Police intervention in Kahnawake would be act of provocation, First Nation says

Protesters reinforced a rail blockade on the Kahnawake Mohawk territory south of… Continue reading

Alberta must juggle sluggish economy, big deficits, lost jobs in upcoming budget

EDMONTON — Alberta is to bring in its new budget Thursday while… Continue reading

Prepare for new coronavirus like an emergency, health minister advises

OTTAWA — Health Minister Patty Hajdu is encouraging Canadians to stockpile food… Continue reading

New Brunswick maintains position on abortions and Canada Health Act

FREDERICTON — The New Brunswick government is standing firm in its position… Continue reading

Bolder actions, words from protesters behind Quebec and Ontario rail blockades

Protesters behind rail blockades in Quebec and Ontario ramped up their actions… Continue reading

Most Read