Murder Charge Against 9-Year-Old Triggers Debate

Mom says boy accused of setting fatal fire 'not a monster'; critics say murder charge is too severe
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 11, 2019 1:36 PM CDT
'Not a Monster,' Says Mom of Boy Charged in Fatal Fire
This photo taken April 7, 2019, shows the side of the burned Illinois trailer home where five people died.   (Matt Dayhoff/Journal Star via AP)

The mother of a 9-year-old accused of setting an Illinois mobile home fire in April that killed five family members is speaking out—and she wants people to know her son is "not a monster," per the AP. The 28-year-old mom, IDed by the Chicago Tribune as Katie Alwood, concedes her son made a "terrible mistake," but that he's just "a child," and one she says has serious mental-health issues, including ADHD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. In interviews Thursday, Alwood said her son has a "good heart" and didn't mean to kill those who died, including her own 34-year-old fiance, a 2-year-old and 1-year-old they had together, Alwood's 69-year-old grandmother, and Alwood's 2-year-old niece. She also doesn't think her son, who's been charged with first-degree murder, should be facing such severe consequences: "He should be punished, but he needs mental help."

Critics of the murder charge agree with Alwood, saying a child that young needs intervention, not serious punishment, no matter what the crime may be. "Neuroscience, brain development—all of it points to the fact that young children shouldn't be held culpable," Elizabeth Clarke, head of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, says. She agrees there should be "accountability," but via "services, not sanctions." One person who doesn't concur: the boy's aunt, who's the mom of one of the 2-year-old victims. She thinks her nephew should be placed in a juvenile detention center, with a transition to prison when he becomes an adult. "It hurts knowing that I won't get to see her first day of school," she says of her dead daughter. "I won't get to see her first tooth fall out. I won't get to see her become someone amazing." (More murder stories.)

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