Maui community searches for answers for why teen set fire to school

It was a fire that devastated a community on Maui.

Now a 17-year-old boy is in custody, accused of setting fire to Kahului Elementary School.

He was arrested on Friday, December 15 and charged with arson, burglary, and criminal property damage.

Maui police say the Kahului teen appeared in family court and was ordered to be held at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility on Oahu.

It was the night of November 24 when a two-alarm fire destroyed six classrooms and caused more than one million dollars worth of damage.

KHON2 reached out to Maui resident Cyndi Mayo-Akeo to find see how the community feels about someone so young being brought in for starting the fire.

“I’m not too surprised,” Mayo-Akeo said. “There’s a lot of troubled teens committing crimes lately. It is disheartening to hear about this happening on Maui being that Maui’s so mellow.”

Mayo-Akeo added that the community is glad the police have someone in custody, but there is one question everyone wants answers to … “Why? why did a 17 year old do it?”

KHON2 contacted psychologist Alana Coffee to find out what motivates a person to do this.

“Sometimes there’s a cognitive issue involved or the person has a serious mental illness or cognitive neurological deficit or difference,” Coffee explained. “Sometimes it’s just pure revenge or vengeance on a family.”

According to clinical and forensic psychologist Dr. Marvin Acklin there are several types of fire setting motivations.

“They can include vandalism, which is the destruction of property. Often times you’ll see vandalistic fires set to vacant structures,” Acklin said.

Acklin said in addition to vandalism, revenge, and mental issues, people also set fires for financial reasons.

“This would be more an instrumental fire setting where people would burning down a house for some kind of financial gain like including insurance payouts and stuff like that,” Acklin said.

Another common motivation for arsonists is excitement.

“You can see a kind of an excitement type of arson, which would be where somebody sets a fire and then does it for the kick that they get out of it including the public coverage,” Acklin said. “It’s likely to receive a lot of attention in the press, it’s going to create a big raucous with respect to law enforcement and the fire department and so there’s a thrill seeking component of it.”

Acklin said that young arsonists often fall into two categories.

“Acts of vandalism tend be associated with adolescents, which would be kind of a rebellious, anti-authority mixed in with a certain degree of excitement so they can kind of blend together.”

Acklin added that arson is more often committed by males.

“Female firesetters are unbelievably rare,” Acklin said.

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