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Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Young Wildfire Arsonist

     Arson-for-profit is generally an adult male crime while serial, pathological fire setting is often committed by teenage boys. The rare female arsonist is likely to be a 30 to 50-year-old woman who set the fire in her own dwelling to attract attention and sympathy. It's even rarer when a young girl intentionally sets a fire that causes extensive property damage. Because fires set by females are generally not motivated by financial gain, they are by definition pathological offenses. This doesn't necessarily mean that these fire setters are legally insane. In cases of  young female arsonists, the perpetrators set the fires because they are angry with their parents, their teachers, or the world in general. While these fire setters are rare, they are dangerous.

     On May 14, 2014, someone set a fire north of San Diego that raged for eight days and burned 2,000 acres and destroyed 40 buildings including homes in the towns of San Marcos and Escondido, California. The so-called Cocos Wildfire threatened several schools including California State University in San Marcos.

     The Cocos Wildfire cost $28 million to extinguish and destroyed $30 million worth of property. According to cause and origin investigators, the fire had been intentionally set.

     In July 2014 arson investigators identified an unnamed 13-year-old girl as the suspected Cocos fire starter. She resided near the point of origin with her parents who schooled her at home. She was also a top competitor in the San Diego area junior cycling program. (Investigators have not revealed how they solved the case.)

     Rather than being placed into a juvenile detention facility, the authorities released the suspected arsonist to the custody of her parents. Under the terms of this arrangement she is not allowed out of the house from six in the evening to six in the morning. The rest of the day she has to be accompanied by a parent when she leaves the house.

     Superior Court Judge Aaron Katz ordered that the young defendant undergo psychological evaluation to determine if she is mentally competent to stand trial on the charges of felony arson. On August 20, 2014, following a three-week evaluation process, Juvenile Court Judge Rod Shelton found the suspect mentally competent to stand trial. She has, according to the psychologists, the capacity to understand the nature of the charges against her as well as the ability to help her attorney plan a defense.

     At the suspect's arraignment on the felony arson charges she pleaded not guilty.

     In March 2015, the young fire setter was found guilty of several counts of arson, The judge sentenced the juvenile to 400 hours of community service.

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