EAST PEORIA — What do you do when a 9-year-old kills?
That’s the vexing question in Woodford County, where a 9-year-old faces five counts of first-degree murder (plus lesser counts) in connection with a mobile-home fire in April near Goodfield in central Illinois. According to state law, even if the looming bench trial were to end with a conviction, there’s not much to be done in terms of punishment. Because of the child’s age, though counseling is likely, incarceration of any type is not an option.
And John Wall thinks that’s ridiculous, statutory guidelines be damned.
“I think they should throw him in prison,” he said.
Wall, 36, is the brother of Jason Wall, 34, who died in the fire, along with four others. On Thursday, Jason Wall’s fiancee, Katrina Alwood, 28, told CBS News that the 9-year-old is Kyle Alwood, the child she had by another man while in high school. To CBS, she described the quintuple-homicide arson as a “mistake.”
“Everyone is looking at him like he’s some kind of monster, but that’s not who he is,” said Alwood, who has declined to talk to GateHouse Media Illinois about the charges. “People make mistakes, and that’s what this is. Yes, it was a horrible tragedy, but it’s still not something to throw his life away over.”
Katrina Alwood is a mother protecting her son in a way she feels best. And that’s her right.
But John Wall believes he has the right to speak up for his brother. And he also believes the outcome of the crime — ethically, if not legally — merits harsh punishment. He grimaces when discussing the actions of the boy, referenced in Jason Wall’s obituary as “Kyle Alwood of Goodfield, whom he was raising like his own son.”
“I don’t think he deserves leniency,” John Wall said.
The April 6 blaze at Timberline Mobile Home Park also killed Daemeon Wall, 2, and Ariel Wall, 1 (the children of Jason Wall and Katrina Alwood); 2-year-old Rose Alwood (Katrina Alwood’s niece); and 69-year-old Kathryn Murray (Katrina Alwood’s grandmother). Authorities have said almost nothing about Kyle Alwood’s actions the night of the fire. His grandparents, who lived in the trailer next door, have said they were sleeping when the blaze started but were awakened by the boy pounding on their door and shrieking, “The house is on fire! Help!”
Four years ago, Jason Wall, Katrina Alwood and Kyle Alwood lived in a weathered bungalow in East Peoria owned by Helen Wall, the mother of Jason and John Wall. The 72-year-old, who still lives in that dwelling with her surviving son, is reluctant to say much about the fire or charges, so as not to disparage Kyle Alwood.
“I have a heart of mercy,” she said softly.
Still, she had issues with the boy when he lived in the home with her and the others. She says the youth often would get into mischief, such as by repeatedly clogging toilets with objects.
“He was curious what would happen,” she said, her face turning frustrated. “I had to get a lot of toilets fixed.”
Still, she said he often could act well-behaved. And she never knew of any legal run-ins.
However, she said, he sometimes could turn troublesome. “He had a nature that was less than wonderful.”
For instance, she said, he sometimes treated his mother badly, even biting her. This happened even after the couple moved out with the boy and eventually had two children together. The cause, she said, sometimes seemed to be jealousy, after the births of his half siblings.
“He couldn’t stand someone else being fed,” Helen Wall said. “… He didn’t know the meaning of right from wrong.”
To CBS, Katrina Alwood said her son has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, ADHD and bipolar disorder.
John Wall simply thinks the lad sometimes likes to cause trouble, such as the time he messed around with a gas furnace, playing with the pilot light until it went out. He starts to comment, then just shakes his head back and forth with a hard sigh.
Helen Wall echoes that gesture of frustration. Though she lost a son and two grandchildren in the fire, she isn’t sure what would be the best approach for a boy charged with five counts of murder.
“Mercy can be found,” she says, pausing a long while before adding, “I don’t know the answer.”
Phil Luciano is a columnist for GateHouse Media Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 309-686-3155, @LucianoPhil