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Friday, March 25, 2022

The Young Female 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 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. 

     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. 

     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 was not allowed out of the house from six in the evening to six in the morning. The rest of the day she was accompanied by a parent when she left the house.

     Superior Court Judge Aaron Katz ordered that the young defendant undergo psychological evaluation to determine if she was 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 had, 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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