Questions Remain After Boy With Special Needs Set On Fire
KERRVILLE, Texas — Authorities have charged a boy with arson, saying he caused a fire last weekend that severely injured a 10-year-old friend by accidentally splashing gasoline on him while trying to burn a shack.
At a press briefing Thursday, officials offered an account that was sharply at odds with what the injured boy’s mother had said, that the burning was a deliberate attack by bullies her son considered friends.
Kayden Culp, 10, remained in a drug-induced coma, burned over 20 percent of his body.
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Police Chief David Knight said Kayden was in a group of four boys who started the fire in a dilapidated shed on a vacant lot. One of them went to get some gasoline to make it burn faster, and the boy now in custody poured it from a container onto the fire, igniting gas still in the container.
The boy then threw the can away, and Kayden was splashed with the flaming liquid, Knight said.
“It does not appear the (burning) was premeditated or that there was any attempt to harm any of the juveniles present,” Fire Chief Dannie Smith said.
Kayden’s mother, Tristyn Hatchett, had said a relative of one of the boys had told her that one boy had poured gasoline on her son and another ignited it. She and others in the neighborhood had also heard school-based rumors that the boys told classmates the burning had been intentional.
Officials knew of that version of events and discounted it Thursday. They said the investigation is continuing and the families of the boys have been cooperative.
Kayden’s condition was improving, his father, Bobby Hatchett, said by phone from his son’s hospital room, saying of the arson charge, “It’s about time.”
“He’s stable today,” Hatchett said. “He’s doing a lot better than the last two days.”
Hatchett’s coworkers at the International House of Pancakes began a fundraising effort to help the family.
The name and age of the accused was not publicly released because he is a juvenile, but members of his family attended the briefing and afterward called Kayden’s burning a regrettable result of horseplay among neighborhood buddies.
“He’s innocent until we hear proof he’s guilty,” said the detained boy’s grandmother. “He’s not a monster.”
The boy’s father said his son was upset over his friend’s injury and shouldn’t be singled out for prosecution.
“They all wanted to do something that was fun and one of them got hurt,” he said, denying his son put the gas on the fire. “My son’s not to blame at all.”
The Express-News is not publishing the family members’ names so as not to identify the accused juvenile. Fire Chief Dannie Smith said he was charged with first degree arson, accused of starting a fire with the intent to damage or destroy a building, recklessly endangering the property or life of another in the process.
The boy was detained about 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Kerrville police station, where he was being interviewed about the incident, and was being held at the Kerr County juvenile detention facility.
Bobby Hatchett said he thinks the two other boys involved in the incident should also face charges. Kayden, who has a hearing disorder and a speech impediment, was often picked on by playmates, including the group he was hanging out with last Sunday, family members said.
Though only 10 U.S. studies have examined the issue, all of them found that students with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their peers without disabilities, according to the National Bullying Prevention Center.
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