Can we really make a conscious decision on stating whether a nine-year-old boy who was the cause of a fire in Goodfield, Illinois, taking the life of his family members remain incarcerated for the rest of his life? It is a complicated case for everyone involved, and the outcome, either way, is a tragedy.
The nine-year-old boy, whose name is not being released, was incarcerated for setting fire to Katie Alwood’s home, killing her fiance, grandmother, two-year-old son, two-year-old niece, and infant daughter on April 6 of this year. The case went before the judge with prosecutors charging the boy with five counts of first-degree murder and three counts of arson.
Since the boy is a minor, not much is released to the public on what started the fire or where it began. Authorities did, however, release the information it was Alwood’s nine-year-old son who was the cause of the fire. Both he and his mother were the only ones to make it out of the home alive. It is said the boy set the fire intentionally for reasons unknown.
Monday, the nine-year-old went before Judge Charles Feeney at the Woodford County Juvenile Court and was arraigned. It was said the judge tried to explain to the boy what was happening in the courtroom on that day. He asked the boy, “What don’t you understand?” To which the boy responded, “What I did.”
As the judge paused almost every step of the way in the courtroom to explain the documents to the boy, it took a half-hour longer than expected. The boy’s defense attorney would stop the judge and say, “Your honor, I apologize, he told me he doesn’t know what ‘alleged’ means.” The judge responded patiently, “It means someone accuses you.” The same would happen when the charges were brought up about arson. The judge explained, “You knowingly set a fire.”
As the hearing adjourned, the boy broke down, crying hysterically as his grandfather escorted him out of the courtroom. It is unknown if a plea was entered on Monday as the judge issued a gag order on the case by the request of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
If the boy is found guilty, there is a maximum sentence of probation, treatment, and counseling. The minimum age to be placed in detention is ten years old, according to Illinois state law. The minimum age for prison is 13. Prosecutors who handled the case against the child would have an adult in jail for the rest of their lives, even on death row.
The president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative in Illinois, Elizabeth Clarke, stated, “It’s very unusual. It’s a shocking approach that the prosecutor chose to take.” She also said, “There are no treatment options that open up. What opens up by charging is the possibility of punishment. It’s only about punishment.”
Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger and the public defender of the boy did not comment on the case. Still, Minger did say, “It was a difficult decision because it was a 9-year-old…and all the way around, it was a tragedy.”
Alwood reported to the Journal Star, “The younger children were asleep when the furnace exploded, causing flames to engulf the inside of the home.” She continued saying her “son ran next door, where his grandparents lived, screaming for help. The five family members died of smoke inhalation.” She stated her son “deserves forgiveness.”
The boy’s mother told CBS News, “Everyone is looking at him like he’s some kind of monster, but that’s not who he is. People make mistakes, and that’s what this is. Yes, it was a horrible tragedy, but it’s still not something to throw his life away over.” She also told CBS News, her “son had recently been diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia, ADHD, and bipolar disorder.”
Samantha Alwood, Alwood’s sister, who lost her two-year-old daughter in the fire, said to CBS News, “Probation would not be enough of a punishment. I want to see my nephew incarcerated. I think he should go somewhere until he’s the legal age to go to juvie. Then I think he should go to juvie. And then from juvie to prison. Because at the end of the day, whether he meant to or not, he knew what fire did.”
It is a tough call, and it is hard to see her child go through this. Both sisters lost their children. We can only pray forgiveness finds them along the way.