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9-Year-Old Boy Alleged To Have Set Fire To Family Home Charged With 5 Counts Of Murder

A 9-year-old Illinois boy, identified by his mother as Kyle Alwood, has been charged with five counts of murder charges for allegedly killing five people — including three infants — in an April house fire. Woodford County State’s Attorney Greg Minger filed charges Tuesday against Alwood in connection to a fire in the Timberline Trailer Court in Goodfield, Ill, the Associated Press reports.

According to the Peoria Journal Star, Minger said Alwood faces five counts of first-degree murder, two counts of arson and one count of aggravated arson, which means he was allegedly aware people were in the home when he started the fire.

Minger told the Peoria Journal Star that Alwood will be appointed an attorney and have a bench trial in front of a judge. If convicted, he faces a maximum of five years’ probation, but not past the age of 21, according to the AP. Minger also told the AP he won’t face jail time but will have to undergo counseling and therapy.

“It was a heavy decision,” Minger told the AP. “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.”

Woodford County coroner Tim Ruestman stated the five victims of the house fire died as a result of smoke inhalation and their deaths were all ruled homicides. The Woodford County Coroner’s Office determined the fire was started intentionally.

Betsy Clarke, founder and President of the Illinois-based Juvenile Justice Initiative, told TIME that the prosecutors’ decision to charge Alwood is “shocking” since research shows children that age are not aware of the significance of their actions. “It’s a shocking decision on the part of the prosecutors and it’s out of step with the fundamental international human rights protections for children,” Clarke says.

“What’s particularly shocking about it is the charges filed the same week that the first-ever global study on the deprivation of liberty of children was released. I was just at the launch of that study, and the key recommendation in the study is that the minimum age of prosecution be 14 — and the reason for 14 is that all of their brain research shows that children are not capable of understanding, appreciating consequences. Neurological studies show that they should not be criminally responsible at a lower age than 14, so 9 is simply shocking,” she adds.

Dr. Jeff Temple, professor and psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch and a board member of the Texas Psychological Association, says that young children do not understand that there are real consequences for their actions. “There is certainly enough that we know about the developing mind in psychology to say that a 9-year-old cannot be responsible for an illegal offense for purposeful murder or intentional kills,” Temple says. “At that age, the mind is not developed enough — they’re not thinking of consequences, they’re impulsive basically, they’re watching cartoons where the Road Runner runs off the cliff, falls 500 feet, dies and is alive in the next scene so they don’t have a good sense of life or death.”

Temple says that although Alwood may have started the fire intentionally, knowing people could get hurt, he still could not comprehend the “permanence” of death.

“Kids do stupid things all the time and don’t really think about the consequences,” he says. “It could have been, as terrible as this was, that he wanted to see what it was like to see something burn down — even if he knew someone was in it. My guess is he doesn’t understand the nature of consequence and actions, even if he thought someone was going to burn, he probably didn’t have that sense of permanence that they weren’t going to come back and that they were going to be dead and gone forever.”

“I just don’t think we can hold someone who still believes in the Easter bunny and accuse them of having the intent of murdering someone when they don’t even know the meaning of what death really is,” Temple adds.

Clarke says she was surprised by the decision because Illinois is the home of the first juvenile court, which was established in 1899. “The whole idea was to give children a second chance,” she says. “Illinois led the world in protection for children and now we’re so far behind.”

Katie Alwood, who allowed CBS News to disclose he son’s name and picture, told CBS News correspondent Errol Barnett, "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."

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The victims are all members of the family: Alwood's other children, Daemeon and Ariel Wall, ages 2 and 1, respectively; her grandmother, Kathryn Murray, 69; her fiancé, Jason Wall, 34; and her niece, Rose Alwood, 2. Alwood was also in the home but was only able to save herself.

"I stood at the window and I told my kids I was sorry I couldn't save them. Mommy was right here and I loved them. You know, so, at least hopefully they heard that. I told Jason I loved him... And then something told me that they're gone," said Alwood, who added that her son had been recently diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia, ADHD, and bipolar disorder.

"I think he should go somewhere until he's 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," Samantha Alwood, Kyle’s aunt, said.

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