Arson firefighters should be named

January 14, 2014

Youth is the time when all things seem possible. This might be why it weighs so heavily on everyone’s hearts when young people commit crimes with no thought of the consequences.

The recent arrest of four young people who locked an 89-year-old woman in her car trunk and drove the car around for two days springs to mind. How could these young people care so little for the life of their victim and for their own lives that they would carry out this plan?

The Cape Gazette has also reported on a vandalism spree by several young Lewes firefighters, who threw watermelons and damaged mailboxes along a back road in Maryland. While the crimes are in no way comparable, one still has to ask how young people in training to risk their lives to fight fires would behave so thoughtlessly.

Now comes the case of two junior firefighters charged with arson for setting fire to a vacant home off Munchy Branch Road, in a neighborhood where close-by homes were occupied. Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company has already identified the young people charged as junior firefighters who are now suspended.

The Cape Gazette has made every effort to identify these two young people, but the State Fire Marshal’s Office, which made the arrest, announced it will not release the names because they are juveniles. Without names, the Cape Gazette cannot determine whether the two young people remain in custody or have posted bail. Everyone can sympathize with adults who want to protect young people from the consequences of their acts. Beyond that, research shows the part of the brain responsible for impulse control does not mature until a person reaches his 20s; in that sense, teens are less responsible than adults.

Still, a double standard clearly exists if the name of a 14-year-old charged with kidnapping is released, but the name of a 17-year-old who sets a house on fire is withheld.

Young people who commit minor crimes deserve a measure of anonymity. But when the offense rises to a felony, the matter becomes one of public interest. Releasing some names while withholding others further raises the question of fairness in the eyes of the law.

This issue will continue to roil as long as it is cloaked in secrecy.

It is only by releasing the names that healing can begin.

  • Cape Gazette editorials are considered and written by members of the Cape Gazette editorial board which includes Dennis Forney, publisher; Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Laura Ritter, news editor; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; and Nick Roth, sports editor.

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