12-year-old charged in campus fires

12-year-old charged in campus fires

URBANA — A 12-year-old Champaign boy was charged in a juvenile petition in Champaign County Circuit Court Monday after admitting he set three fires on or near the University of Illinois campus Thursday.

University of Illinois police Sgt. Tom Geis said an alert patrol officer who was investigating the first of the three fires recognized the youth from surveillance video and arrested him the next day.

Geis said the first fire was reported about 4:10 p.m. Thursday in the tunnel between the UI Undergraduate Library and the Main Library. A smoke detector activated and Urbana firefighters found a charred garbage can.

As Officer Ryan Lepp was finishing collecting evidence there about 5:15 p.m., there was a second fire reported inside a UPS drop box in the 600 block of East Green Street. Champaign firefighters quickly put that fire out with water.

About 7:30 p.m., there was a third fire reported outside a building in the 400 block of South Sixth Street near the corner of Sixth and Stoughton streets. Geis said UI and Champaign police used fire extinguishers to put out the flames, which appeared to have started in a small compost pile outside the building.

Geis said Lepp, the officer who took the tunnel fire report, looked at surveillance video and identified two boys he believed were responsible. On Friday, he was patrolling around the Illini Union and saw the same boys about 8:30 p.m. in the north circle drive.

When he approached, they took off and after a brief foot chase, were caught near the south side of the Grainger Library, north of where Lepp first saw them.

Geis said Officer Darren Lewis helped Lepp and learned from the younger of the two brothers that he was responsible for all three fires.

The boys were taken to the Juvenile Detention Center.

State's Attorney Julia Rietz charged the younger of the two with criminal damage to government property. The older was not charged.

Judge Harry Clem ordered that he be released to his mother. He's due back in court Aug. 14.

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on July 09, 2014 at 8:07 am
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The 4th of July: a holiday for pyromaniacs & drunkards.


How sad.

Skepticity wrote on July 09, 2014 at 9:07 pm

This story is not about the July 4th holiday, or drunkenness. 

Why bring in issues irrelevant to the story, Rob? This story is about unsupervised youths wandering about town this summer committing crimes.


Two juvenile brothers wandered about campus on July 3rd from 4:00pm or earlier until at least 7:30pm, and they set three fires.  The boys were recorded on security video. When the boys were spotted on July 4th near the Illini Union, on campus again, they attempted to evade police, and were captured after a foot chase. Good thing no guns were drawn. 

The older brother (how old?) was not charged because the younger brother (age 12) claimed responsibility for all three fires. The older brother apparently did nothing to stop the younger 12 year old brother from starting 2 more fires after the first was ignited, but he was not charged as an accessory. 

Is this the first police contact for these juveniles, or is there a history of problems from one or both? Any history of criminality or gang involvement on the part of these boys, other siblings, or close family members?

Oh, they are juveniles, so we can't know the answers to these questions.  We won't be able to know if it is the same youths if there are subsequent crimes during their adolescence and young adulthood.   

How often have these boys just hung out around campus or in other parts of town without adult supervision? How often did they check in with adults?  Any other reports from earlier this summer of arson or other crimes on campus or in other parts of town that may have been committed by the boys?


The judge released the younger brother to his mother.  He was not released to his parents, just his mother. Apparently the father of the 12 year old was unavailable.  Was there any investigation of the household to which he is returning? 

At least we can feel reassured that the risk to the community is now resolved.  After all, he is back under the supervision of his mother, as he was before he wandered about on campus and committed the 3 self admitted incidents of arson. Since the mother wasn't present during the interview with the officer who caught the boys, the admission is likely inadmissable as evidence. 

Any other siblings in the home with interesting ways of spending their summer vacation days? 

Unfortunately this is just one small example of a much larger problem.  These boys are just from one of a multitude of families who don't provide parental instruction about right and wrong and who don't adequately supervise their kids. 

This kind of behavior is what comes of kids growing up supervised by other kids on the street.  This is a microcosm of Chicago West Side and South Side life. 

EDIT:  On Monday, 7/7/14, Channel 15 reported that the older brother was 14, that they both faced aggravated arson charges, and that the brothers had previously been in trouble for thefts on campus. 

Was Channel 15 wrong about the age of the 14 year old, were the charges on the 14 year old dropped, did the NG fail to report relevant facts?

The previous trouble with theft on campus (if true) would tend to support my views above about parental supervision and guidance. 

alabaster jones 71 wrote on July 09, 2014 at 10:07 pm
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You make some good points, but it's worth mentioning that you are bringing up irrelevant topics, as well.  Specifically, Chicago.

I know that it's convenient to scapegoat Chicago for everything bad that happens in this community, but it's not quite that simple.  We should all stop pretending that it is, and start dealing with the skeletons in our own closets instead of deflecting blame towards a city that's over 100 miles away.

Skepticity wrote on July 10, 2014 at 11:07 am

Sorry if I gave the impression I was blaming Chicago, as other articles have blamed Chicago recently! 

My only intention was to note the parallels in children raising themselves on the streets.  The Chicago areas I noted are the extension of what what happens when large numbers of young people are given little supervision and parenting.  Locally it has not yet reached the large numbers that are present in some Chicago neighborhoods. 

I agree that this is an issue in Champaign-Urbana, Danville, Decatur, and likely most communities.  I agree that local efforts are needed, and in no way do I mean to state that Chicago is the root of this problem.  The root is the culture of poverty and the breakdown of the family. 

I had no intent to blame or scapegoat Chicago in this post.  I am not aware of any direct Chicago connection in this matter. 

I might blame Chicago in other posts if the perpetrators of crimes are shown to be part of Chicago gangs that are branching into this area. 

In this case, it is about child rearing and supervision. 

alabaster jones 71 wrote on July 10, 2014 at 11:07 am
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My fault if I misinterpreted you.  I agree with everything you just said.  Unfortunately, there are always going to be some badly behaved kids out there with poor adult supervision.  That problem will never completely go away, short of the government going into people's homes every day and checking on people's kids, which I don't think hardly anyone would favor.  The best we can do as a society is to try and minimize the problem.  But, there's another tough question.....how?