A 12-year-old boy was arrested Monday for setting a along Hazelwood Drive that terrorized neighbors and prompted many to buy motion-detection lights and video surveillance systems.
Chief John Konopek said the boy, a middle-school student who lives in the neighborhood, had been a suspect in the fires that occurred between Dec. 25 and Jan. 8. However, he wasn’t charged until police caught him breaking into a vehicle in the neighborhood and obtained his confession, he said.
“Very early in the investigation he was a suspect but we wanted to build a solid case against him,” Konopek said. “We wanted to keep our minds open in case it wasn’t him. … We wanted to draw him out and catch him in the act.”
Police had been doing surveillance in the area since January, when it became clear that someone was targeting unlocked cars in the 16000 block of Hazelwood and setting them on fire. In two cases, those cars were inside garages and did damage to the attached townhouses.
The boy acted by himself, but Konopek said he wasn’t certain of the motivation, nor did he know why the juvenile's family was not aware he was leaving the house at different times of the night to commit the crimes, which also included three car burglaries and two instances in which he spray-painted people’s homes.
The victims appear to be random and, in the arson and burglary cases, likely targeted because they left their vehicles unlocked and garage doors open, the chief said.
There will be more details forthcoming Tuesday, when Konopek holds a press conference to answer questions about the arrest.
The boy has been charged with five counts of arson, three counts of burglary to a motor vehicle and two counts of criminal damage to property. He’s being held in Will County’s River Valley Juvenile Justice Center in Joliet.
The five fires set over a three-week period of time – one on Christmas Day, one on New Year’s Eve and three on Jan. 8 – scared Hazelwood Drive residents, who feared an arsonist was at large and that their homes were potential targets. A neighborhood watch was formed, and residents began leaving their porch lights on and investing in motion detection lights and camera surveillance systems.
The fires stopped, but then the vehicle burglaries and vandalism started, Konopek said.
It’s clear the suspect has some emotional issues that drove him to commit these crimes, he said.
“He has had a troubled past,” he said. “We definitely want to get this kid some help. … It’s been my experience that when a juvenile is involved in setting fires (or committing other crimes at a young age) that we find out there were reasons behind it.”
Residents leaving notes on Plainfield Patch expressed relief that the police had finally made an arrest in the arson cases.
“Yes, I can finally get one full night of sleep!” Mike Bjorklund wrote. (Bjorklund is also a Plainfield Patch freelance writer.) “As pleased as I am with the work of the Plainfield Police Department in the apprehending of this juvenile, I am sad to learn that it was a 12-year-old.”
Lisa Morris, who lost two cars and had her garage damaged in the Christmas Day fire, said she is angered the boy’s family did not do more to teach their child or keep an eye on his activities and behavior.
“They need to know from me that they have all put my family and the other families that live on this street through hell, and forgive I will do for that child’s sake, but forget I will never!” Morris wrote.