Georgia Boy Set Blaze that Killed Four Siblings
A 6-year-old boy started the fire that killed his four siblings in Conyers late Tuesday, authorities said Friday.
However, the boy will not face criminal charges.
"We have had preliminary discussions with the district attorney of Rockdale County, and it's his belief that this 6-year-old and any 6-year-old cannot form the criminal intent to be prosecuted in juvenile court," Rockdale County Fire and Rescue Chief Dan Morgan said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
"The take away of this is that this was a tragic event, so we want to make sure this 6-year-old gets help as soon as possible," he said.
Morgan said the results of the investigation will be forwarded to the state's Division of Family and Children Services, so the boy can be referred for counseling and treatment.
Georgia law states that no one can be convicted of a crime who was younger than 13 at the time of the offense. However, under the state's juvenile code, children found to be "delinquent" or "unruly" can be placed under court supervision.
The 6-year-old was playing with a lighter in the upstairs hallway of the family's duplex while his mother and the other children slept in two adjacent bedrooms, Morgan said.
He said authorities have "high confidence" in their analysis, based on both the physical evidence and interviews with the boy and his mother, father and grandmother.
No chemical residues were found to suggest that the fire was deliberate, Morgan said. "The lab results from the investigation have been thoroughly examined and test results show no accelerants."
The 6-year-old's mother, Reeba Glass, remains in Grady Memorial Hospital with burns over 40 percent of her body. The boy has been staying with his father, Darnell Glass, who is separated from Reeba. The boy will remain with his father for the immediate future, Morgan said.
Killed in the blaze were 9-year-old Ah'Dariya, 7-year-old Dar'Shawn, 3-year-old Armoni and 8-month-old Deon.
Investigators had earlier determined that the only smoke alarm in the duplex was downstairs and that it had no battery in it.
Dwayne Garriss, state fire marshal, said it is state law that smoke detectors must be placed outside any sleeping area. However, he said the landlord will face no liability, because the law carries no penalties for a first offense. It provides a $25 fine for a second offense.
As for punishing the boy, that is not the key issue, said Velma Tilley, a Bartow County Juvenile Court judge. "The punishment comes in knowing he caused the deaths of his siblings. How could you punish him any more?"
More to the point, she and other child welfare experts said, is seeing that the child receives the counseling he needs not only to cope but to overcome any tendency to act out again.
"Clearly he will have to have therapy to come to grips with this, and what his actions have caused," Tilley said. "He will need a lot of care to get past this."
Experts suggested that the boy undergo psychological tests to help determine whether the fire was an accident, a bit of mischievous play or an intentional act of violence.
"He's still 6 years old. He may not realize the gravity of what's happened," said Ava Lipscomb, the Bartow County director of a program that provides court-appointed advocates for children in juvenile court. "He needs help processing this."
Tilley put it in even starker terms. "Clearly this child is not safe," she said. "I think there will be state oversight. They will make sure this child gets what he needs."
As horrific as the Glass family's tragedy is, it is not unique. Nationwide, children set 56,300 fires a year, on average, including 12,500 structure fires, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Those blazes cause an average of 110 deaths and 880 injuries each year.
Boys are more prone to start fires than girls. According to the NFPA's data, boys were responsible in more than 80 percent of cases where the sex of the child was recorded.
Because the 6-year-old sibling has become a focus of the investigation into late Tuesday's fatal fire, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will no longer include his name in coverage of this story. It is our policy not to name minors in criminal investigations.
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