A 9-year-old child has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder, two counts of arson and one count of aggravated arson in connection with a mobile home fire that claimed the lives of five people in Illinois.
On April 6, a 1-year-old, two 2-year-olds, a 34-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman died of smoke inhalation from a home fire near Goodfield, Illinois, USA Today reported. Katrina Atwood, 27 at the time, survived, along with one of her children.
Now, authorities say, a 9-year-old is responsible for sparking the blaze, and should be held accountable for the deaths of the victims. According to the Woodford County coroner, the fire was set intentionally.
"It was a heavy decision," Woodford County State's Attorney Greg Minger told NBC News on deciding to move forward with prosecution. "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."
But proving that the accused child set the fire with the intent to kill could be a difficult task for the prosecution, juvenile defense attorney Gus Kostopoulos told the outlet. "Nine-year-olds don't know that Santa Claus doesn't exist," Kostopoulos argued. "They don't know people die and don't come back to life. I don't know if a 9-year-old can form intent to commit murder."
A neighbor of the victims tearfully told WICD-TV of the accused, "I have compassion for him, because in my own heart, I really can't see that a 9-year-old would intentionally want to harm somebody."
9-Year-Old Charged With Murder In 5 Illinois Fire Deaths www.youtube.com
The accused child's relationship to the victims has not been disclosed. On Tuesday, survivor Katrina Atwood posted a report on the charges to her Facebook page, pleading, "I would appreciate if everyone would stop the hate comments he's only nine he needs help he's just a baby so please stop."