Social Media Posts Prompt Copycat Fires in Illinois

July 15--Ten Plainfield juveniles have been charged in recent weeks with setting fire to dumpsters and playground equipment, a practice police said was spurred on by social media.

The juveniles, ranging in age from 11 to 16, have been charged with property damage but the charges may be upgraded to arson, according to police Sgt. Kevin McQuaid.

The four incidents took place on June 19, June 21, June 22 and July 10, he said.

The first three incidents involved the youths setting fire to dumpsters or garbage cans, McQuaid said. The final incident involved youths trying to set the mulch of a playground on fire, he said.

All the fires involved minimal property damage, according to McQuaid.

The youths involved were not all associated with each other, he said, and some of the offenders admitted to setting their own fires after seeing photos of the previous incidents posted to social media.

All the incidents happened in the early-evening hours, McQuaid said, and the suspects were apprehended within 10 to 15 minutes of the crime after witnesses pointed them out, giving the youths time to post their activities to social media.

"Patrol officers were able to catch up with them," he said.

Police were not aware of any social media postings until they made an arrest in a later incident and those offenders told police that they got the idea from the posted picture, McQuaid said.

McQuaid said the department hasn't seen such copycat behavior "to this extent" spurred on by social media in the past.

"I think you'll probably see more stuff like this," he said. "All these kids are on social media and trying to one-up each other."

While the damage was minimal, the potential for damage that comes with starting fires has been emphasized to the kids and their parents, McQuaid said.

"You might thinks it's all fun and games, but a lot of things could come of this," he said.

The police department reminded parents in a statement to monitor their children's social media sites and to use parental controls when available.

Any parents with questions or those who would like more information about social media or fire safety can contact McQuaid at 815-436-6544, or Deputy Fire Chief John Stratton at 815-436-5335.

geoffz@tribune.com -- Twitter: @JournoGeoffZ

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