The mind behind the Coatesville fires

January 28, 2009 7:43:35 AM PST
They're taking no chances in Coatesville, Chester County. That's why firefighters, police, and federal agents rushed to the scene of a trash fire Tuesday night just after 6:00.

It took only minutes to douse the blaze in the 5-hundred block of Coates Street, and there's no word if it was intentionally set.

There have been 14 arsons since the first of the year, the most recent being the 7-alarm blaze Saturday night that eventually involved 15 dwellings. Donations of supplies are pouring in for people chased from their homes.

Federal agents are on the Coatesville arson case and one of their missions is to examine the mind of the arsonist.

As soon as all the evidence is gathered, the ATF will put some of their best arson profilers in Washington on the case. Just who is the person or persons responsible for the fires and why are they doing this?

Arson investigators have taken a particular interest in videos posted on YouTube about the fires in Coatesville.

With no suspects yet, they want to determine if the videos may help lead to one. Indeed, they are shaking every tree they can to catch the person. Whoever it is, experts are certain of one thing:

"They haven't lost any sleep over any of this," said Dr. Dian Williams of the Center for Arson Research, Inc. in Lafayette Hills.

For more than 3 decades, Dr. Williams has profiled thousands of arsonists. She said there are seven types, among them, delinquent juveniles, thrill seekers, the mentally ill psychotic, the criminal trying to commit insurance fraud, the revenge seeker, young children suffering from disordered coping and a very unusual type: cluster setters, people who set fires during painful anniversaries important to them such as death, divorce or separation.

But more than likely the suspect in Coatesville may be a revenge arsonist, someone who feels justified in trying to make a point.

"What's fascinating about revenge arsonists is that they don't care if you get the point," Dr. Williams said. "What's important is that they know that the point was made."

Or the arsonist, as so often is the case, may be a thrill seeker.

"What you have is somebody who is engaged in a deadly game, and the game is directed generally at men in positions of authority."

For the thrill seeker arsonists, men in position of authority are fire and police investigators.

"It's really the thrill of getting away with the crime."

With 14 fires in 24 days, the victims in Coatesville have no idea why they've been targeted.

"They seem like they're getting a kick out of it, going to one house and doing the next house, it's crazy," said John Thomas.

"People are afraid now, they can't sleep," said Dahmeia Sellars.

But, while the game goes on, Williams said the thrill seeker arsonist has no regard for the victims.

"Everyone who lost everything are really just ancillary damage and I can assure you, the arsonist has not given any of them a second thought."

Dr. Williams said sadly she would not be surprised if the person or persons responsible live right in Coatesville. They often live in the community they target.

Reward Fund

A reward fund has been set up to help catch those responsible for the fires. Contributions can be sent to:

Citadel Federal Credit Union
Coatesville Reward Fund
Attn: Office Manager
135 Modena Road
Coatesville, PA 19320

Another fund has been set up to help the people affected by the fires. Donations can be sent to:

Citadel Federal Credit Union
Coatesville Family Fund
Attn: Office Manager
135 Modena Road
Coatesville, PA 19320

The Brandywine Health Foundation announced on Monday it was contributing $10,000 to the Coatesville Family Fund. They're urging others to donate as well.

Phone Numbers:

Coatesville Police Hotline: (610) 636-0514

Citizen's Crime Commission: 215-546-TIPS

Crimestoppers: 1-800-4-PA-TIPS.

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