The mind of an arsonist

| January 21, 2010

TYLER, TX (KLTV) – As the number of church fires grow, a big concern with some East Texans is why would someone do this?

"This is a way to get attention or this is a way to demonstrate some power that they have," said Barbara Hart, the coordinator of the Criminal Justice Program at UT Tyler.

With buildings set ablaze, one of the motivating forces is a need for power.

"I think power is behind a lot of our violent crimes," said Hart.

She says there are two types of violent crimes – one is Instrumental.

"This is the offender who has a goal," said Hart. "He is going after something. The robber who takes your purse."

With arson, though, the motive often gets complicated – identified as Expressive Crime. Fire investigator Kelly Stalder classifies arson into six categories.

"There's profit motivation, vandalism motivation, excitement, covering another crime, terrorism, and revenge," said Stalder.

"This is their way to express that they have some control," said Hart.

It is control over a life that is often out of control. Stalder says no two arsonists are the same, but there are often similarities.

"In my experience, most of the arsonists I dealt with were white males," said Stalder.

He says they are usually males under the age of 30. In the case of the recent fires, Hart says it is most likely not children.

"If the churches are a target then it doesn't seem to be a juvenile that would be doing that," said Hart. "It's a more complex reason."

They are reasons that can not be solved with the strike of a match.

"Setting a fire is obviously not going to solve whatever problems he may have," said Hart. "So he may decide that is what he has to do is keep doing this."

Both of the experts stressed that every arson situation is different. The only way to find out an arsonist's true motivation is if they are caught.


Category: Church Security