10-year-old denies felony arson charge

Case filed in Youth Court
Thursday, September 9, 2021
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A 10 year-old boy has denied setting fire to his own home.

The boy appeared in Youth Court last Thursday and entered the denial to felony arson before Judge Matt Wald.

The boy’s parents were with him and when asked by Judge Wald if they would promise to report any violations of release orders, both answered “yes.”

Those conditions include staying in school, abiding by a 9 p.m. curfew unless his parent’s curfew is earlier, staying in touch weekly with the youth probation officer and not talking about the case with anyone.

“Ya gotta follow the rules,” Judge Wald told the boy, who was then released to the custody of his parents.

Youth Court proceedings are open to the public in Montana. The News is not naming the boy due to his young age.

THE CASE

According to court documents, on May 1 a 911 caller reported a structure fire to which Stillwater County Sheriff’s deputies and fire crews responded. Deputy Luke Bruursema arrived on scene to find a substantial amount of smoke coming from the second story of the home and a 16-year-old boy with no shirt or shoes in front of the house, according to court documents.

Also standing outside of the house was the 10-year-old and his older brother.

“One of the neighbors advised that the parents had been contacted and were returning to the residence,” according to court documents.

The boy’s parents arrived on scene and alerted emergency crews that there were two dogs still inside the home, which were found unharmed. After the fire was extinguished, Deputy Bruursema asked the fire department about the cause, and was told there were “multiple potential causes.” Bruursema entered the house and with fire crews, went to the upstairs to locate the origin of the fire.

“Deputy Bruursema noted that the second floor was a large living room and dining room area with a connected kitchen. Inside the kitchen, which was the only room in the residence that had burned, Deputy Bruursema observed an open area between two kitchen counters on the north wall that had significant charring to the window frame and on the side of the kitchen cabinets. The charring was more extensive towards the kitchen floor. Deputy Bruursema observed other heat indicators, which indicated that this is where the fire originated. Deputy Bruursema photographed the kitchen area including all the burn damage,” according to court documents.

All wiring in the area was intact and garbage can was melted on the outside only. There appeared to be no signs of malfunction on kitchen appliances and further, “the heat source [or the kitchen was gas forced air heat which would not get hot enough to cause anything to combust,” according to court documents.

At that point, Deputy Bruursema began to suspect that the fire had been humancaused and reported his findings to state Fire Investigator Sally McKenna, who concurred with his findings.

After getting permission from the parents, all three boys were interviewed separately. All three said that they were downstairs when they heard a “pop” sound and told the boy’s brother, who went upstairs, looked around a corner, saw smoke and flames and ran downstairs to clear the house and call 911, according to court documents.

The boy said that prior to the fire, he had been upstairs getting a snack.

On May 3, the boy’s mother called the sheriff’s office to say that video surveillance footage showed the boy starting the fire in the kitchen, according to court documents.

That video footage showed the boy appearing to open the oven door and then place something on the floor, according to court documents.

The boy told his father that he had wanted to light a Rice Krispy treat on fire, but that he had put it out in the trash can, according to court documents. The boy did not want to talk about what had happened when Deputy Bruursema tried to re-interview him.