Girl, 14, admits in juvenile court she started Peachtree City Walmart fire, says DA

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Flames shoot from a rack on the aisle containing paper products like toilet paper and paper plates toward the rear of the Walmart Superstore in Peachtree City. The photo was taken moments after the fire blazed up and was shared on the Peachtree City Police Department's Facebook page.
Flames shoot from a rack on the aisle containing paper products like toilet paper and paper plates toward the rear of the Walmart Superstore in Peachtree City. The photo was taken moments after the fire blazed up and was shared on the Peachtree City Police Department's Facebook page.

Under state’s first offender law, her sentence can’t be made public — 

The 14-year-old Peachtree City girl responsible for setting the Aug. 24 fire that caused significant damage to the Walmart superstore on Peachtree City’s west side appeared in juvenile court on Oct. 21 on charges of 1st degree arson, where she admitted starting the fire.

District Attorney Marie Broder said the teen in Fayette County Juvenile Court entered an admission pertaining to the crime.

Because it was her first offense, state law requires that the sentence she received is confidential and no information can be released, Broder said.

Extinguishing the Aug. 24 blaze in the massive superstore required fire departments from Peachtree City, Fayetteville, Fayette County, Newnan and Coweta County. For some hours during the night of the fire, high-pressure water hoses ran across the four lanes of Ga. Highway 54 West, requiring closing the busy thoroughfare to all traffic. The hose ran to fire hydrants that supplied additional water to onsite water supplies.

Part of the store’s roof collapsed, and thousands of gallons of water were poured through the openings formed by the roof collapse, soaking large areas on the sales floor.

Four city police officers were treated for smoke inhalation, and all were released within hours and returned to duty, Police Chief Janet Moon said at the time.

Police at the time said the girl used a cigarette lighter by itself to start the multi-million-dollar blaze, with no flammable liquid or any other chemical accelerant.

Police also noted that the fire was not part of a social media challenge.

Peachtree City police in a press release after the investigation said, “Initial eyewitness information was eventually corroborated by video evidence recovered from the damaged servers inside Wal-Mart, leading to a suspect description. Through further investigative efforts by detectives, a suspect was identified.

“On the evening of August 30, a search warrant was executed on the suspect’s residence in Peachtree City, which included an interview with the suspect who admitted to starting the fire.

“As a result, a 14-year-old female juvenile was taken into custody and charged with Arson in the 1st Degree. The investigation revealed no evidence of a specific motive or participation in an organized activity.”

17 COMMENTS

  1. Consensus in these comments is that this 14-year-old girl was capable of seeing the long-term consequences of her actions; therefore, she should be treated like the adult that she is.

    So if another 14-year-old girl decides that she wants sexual reassignment surgery and says that she clearly understands the long-term consequences of this radical surgery, she should be treated as an adult and her wishes granted without interference from the state.

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right?

    • STF, you make me laugh. You have to be 21 to legally purchase or consume alcohol. Until you are 18, you can’t get a tattoo EVEN with your parent’s consent. Possession, use of tobacco is against the law, EVEN with your parent’s consent until you are 18. Yet it’s Jim Dandy for people to convince 14 year old kids that cutting off their genitals will solve all their anxiety issues they are experiencing going through puberty. But hey, it’s the hip thing to do. They can be a celebrity.

      As for the minor. Society needs to be protected from her, and she needs to experience some of the hardship she has created. Perhaps one day she will develop a conscience and can return to society. What is amazing is that a person can reach the age of 14 and fail to understand that actions like hers have consequences. Our society needs to take responsibility for the last one.

      • Of course it is foolish to believe that a 14-year-old can unilaterally understand all of the implications of sexual reassignment surgery and make a competent decision about her future. But apparently, many on this blog believe that she can see clear consequences in other realms. Should she be able to sign legal contracts? Should she be able to decide whether she should attend school or not? Should she be able to drive a car on the public roads?

        I am merely pointing out the inconsistencies. Be careful when you pick and choose maturity levels.

        • Your point was actually stupid, one is not like another. Self mutation vs starting a fire. We have laws that prevent her from self mutilation, therefore as much as she would like to become a man she would not be able to do so. Hense she would never able to make that decision until she was an adult, and she would not receive any consequences. Starting a fire, we can not prevent her from making a poor decision. If she asked, as she would have to for a sex change, hopefully her parents and community would say NO. So, did she know that starting a fire is a bad choice? That’s where a therapist or whoever would need to decide how much she was aware of her behavior and decide a punishment based on her mental capacity.

          • Indy – I don’t think that we are so far apart. Maturity level, or what you call “mental capacity,” should be taken into consideration when judging the perpetrator of a crime. Society will not allow a 14-year-old to make many decisions because of her immaturity and inability to see all the reasonable consequences of each action. I merely selected an extreme action in sexual reassignment, but add your own example.

            If society restricts choices and autonomy for young adolescents because they are too immature to see consequences of their decisions and actions, why would we assume that criminal behavior is somehow different? One is very much like the other.

  2. Brat ! She sent Officers to the hospital.She could have killed many people with the stunt she pulled! Now,many are without jobs because of what she did ! Walmart is still closed, I believe. She needs to be punisbed as an adult.At 14,she is old enough to know right from wrong !

  3. From a very reliable source, she was given 1year probation and 50 hours community service. This individual is 14. Her parents are very well respected here in our town. Which I believe played a part in this lenient punishment. I hope her parents get here into a great councilor, because a person just doesn’t decide to do this. There are some deeper issues here.

    • Interesting comment McDuff. How does crime severity influence maturity level? Is a 14-year-old who commits an extraordinary crime more able to understand the consequences of her actions than a person the same age who rolls a friend’s yard? I would argue that her immaturity could have been a significant factor in underestimating the danger of her behavior.

      Perhaps you mean that the severity of the crime should outweigh limitations on sentencing of youth offenders. That would surely test the 8th Amendment since an immature person would be punished without regard to her comprehension of right and wrong.

      Or perhaps, we shouldn’t care about maturity issues at all and merely focus on vengence. As I said, an interesting comment.

  4. Unfortunately, this event shows how vulnerable society is to such acts. Copycat fires can be expected to occur, especially as more people are emboldened to create chaos. Violence has permanently changed air travel and may well change how we purchase consumer goods. We ordered items online and picked them up outside at Walmart during Covid. Is this to be the new norm?

  5. Well, someone knows someone, somewhere! This was a crime that caused damage in the tens of millions of dollars and should have been adjudicated in the adult criminal courts, unless someone knew somebody. Then, since it was so conveniently buried in the juvenile justice system, even the sentence will remain a mystery. This was a horrible crime perpetrated on Peachtree City and we have no idea if justice was served or not. We don’t need her name, but this should not have been tried in the Juvenile justice system and, at a minimum, the citizens of Peachtree City, and Fayette County, should be allowed to know the sentence. Perhaps the sentence is so slight as to offend all of those within earshot. Peachtree City is already on a slippery slope and not taking a firm stand, now, will result in a quick ride to the bottom of the hill.