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Minors' Parents Could Face Damages for School Arson

April 19, 2005 – Police say the case of four boys charged with setting a public school fire could trigger a 1996 law allowing parents to be held responsible for alleged crimes committed by their children.
The boys — aged 7 to 14 — were charged with first-degree arson in connection with a March 31 fire in the principal's office at the Jane E. Tuitt Elementary School. They were arrested April 14.
The head of the Justice Department's Family and Special Victim's Unit said the defendants were advised of their rights in Family Court on Friday, and they all face prosecution. "All charges will be filed on all four. I'm not going to discuss the disposition of these cases," said Assistant Attorney General Douglas Dick.
The fire took place on Transfer Day when the school was closed. Damage to the principal's office was described as minor. At first, fire officials said there may have been electrical problems that caused the fire in the principal's office, but later the arrests were announced.
None of the four boys were students at Tuitt School at the time of the incident. Police said two were students at Ulla Muller Elementary School, one attended Dober Elementary and one was a student at the Addelita Cancryn Junior High School.
Sgt. Thomas Hannah, a spokesman for the Virgin Islands Police Department said the parents may be held responsible for the damages.
"This is one of the things, whenever any school property is destroyed, that goes back to a law that was passed in 1996. So parents will be held accountable, as well as the four minors," Hannah said Tuesday.
The prosecutor said there are no criminal charges awaiting the parents, but the Department of Education can file for damages in civil court.
He also said authorities would probably take the parents' reaction to the incident into account if and when damages are assessed. "To my knowledge, there is nothing in this case that indicates the parents had any knowledge of what was going on with the kids," Dick said. "The only thing that was raised is that the parents could be held civilly responsible."
The fire at Tuitt School was the second incident of its kind at a St. Thomas school in five months. On Election Day, a fire damaged several classrooms at Cancryn. Officials say that fire was also caused by arson. There have been no arrests in connection with the fire at Cancryn School.

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