Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Some crimes do have explanations

A story about a small band of Florida juveniles setting another teen on fire because he owed one of them $40 set off a minor journalistic wince today. A county sheriff was quotes as saying:

"That's what this comes down to. It's retaliation. They deliberately sought him out, poured alcohol on him and set him on fire. I can tell you there's no way to explain it, no way to rationalize it."
The emphasis was added because it parallels something Benjamin Radford wrote in Media Myth Makers about a 10-year-old who burned down a church in Massachusetts.
Fire officials said that the boy admitted to excusing himself from Sunday school class to visit the bathroom, but instead set a fire in a wastebasket, then returned to class and waited, he said, "just to see what would happen."
Fire Chief Leonard Laporte was quoted as asking rhetorically, "What makes a 10-year-old do this? I don't know. Is it a craving for attention? Who knows?" Well the boy knew, and he openly explained it to the police and the fire department. Laporte, like many people, apparently refused to believe the very clear and simple explanations offered by the perpetrator himself.
Just like Radford wrote, there is a way to explain what those kids did in Florida - they tried to brutally murder another student because he couldn't or wouldn't pay them the money he owed them.

There is no reason to hang a large, rhetorical "Why?" over this like it's an unsolvable puzzle. The Florida sheriff officer had just finished chalking it up to retaliation. This certainly doesn't justify it, but it does explain it pretty clearly.


  1. Yes, it explains it, but it doesn't explain it in a way that most sane, rational people can understand. Most people would not burn, or even consider burning, another person to death because they owed them 40 dollars. The actual explanation is more likely that either: a)The kids who committed this crime were psychopaths, or b)There are some other, hitherto unknown, factors that would explain this act more fully if known.

  2. I disagree. I think we have an explanation, but it's not a satisfying one.

    Because of that, someone people will keep searching. Since there is no satisfying explanation for a crime of this nature, they will not be able to find one.

  3. Well, there might be one. For example, that the boys who committed the crime came from horribly abusive homes. Or that the boy they burned had done something almost as horrible to them, first. Extremely unlikely, but mmore understandable a reason, at least.