'Caused a fire': Investigators say Pheasant Run suspect posted online about what boys did

  • Authorities say they found incriminating evidence on the smartphone of one of the suspects in the arson at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, including one image and caption posted after firefighters arrived on the scene.

      Authorities say they found incriminating evidence on the smartphone of one of the suspects in the arson at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, including one image and caption posted after firefighters arrived on the scene. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, May 2022

 
Posted7/29/2022 5:00 AM

We all know teens don't always make good decisions when it comes to their phones and social media, but the juveniles accused of setting the fire that gutted parts of the Pheasant Run Resort may have taken that poor judgment to a new level, according to evidence presented in court this week.

During a hearing Wednesday, a DuPage County prosecutor showed a PowerPoint presentation featuring at least 13 videos, plus a Snapchat snap, obtained from the smartphone of one of the arson suspects.

 

A video taken May 21 -- the day of the fire at the shuttered St. Charles landmark -- shows somebody setting a piece of paper on fire. "It's too big of a crime, dude. Stop," another boy -- not charged with arson -- is heard saying.

The next video, taken a few minutes later, shows a pile of papers on fire in a bathtub, and a boy adding more papers to the blaze.

But what might be most damning is an image posted at 4:54 p.m. -- 13 minutes after St. Charles firefighters were dispatched to the scene. It shows the large cloud of smoke rising from the blaze and is captioned, "Caused a fire," followed by a laughing emoji.

Prosecutors also showed two video montages, containing the defendant's images plus television news reports about the fire. And a May 22 video of the boys is captioned, "After burning down a town we have peaceful sleep."

"I understand kids say a lot of dumb things on social media," DuPage County Judge Anthony Coco said after viewing the evidence. "I find these social media posts troubling."

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Four boys in all are charged -- a 17-year-old from Carol Stream, a 15-year-old from Wheaton, a 15-year-old from Winfield and a 14-year-old from Carol Stream. The 17-year-old and the Wheaton teen face arson charges. The others are charged with trespassing.

Authorities said the fire destroyed the resort's main lobby, Bourbon Street area, and the A, B, and E wings of hotel rooms before being fully extinguished the next day.

Two of the boys remain in juvenile detention. Coco is scheduled to review their status Monday.

Age is just a number?

When is an adult not really an adult?

That's the question a state appeals court wants a Lake County judge to ponder in the case of a former Mundelein man serving 62 years in prison for the murder of a fellow teen outside a Round Lake Beach convenience store.

Jose M. Garcia
Jose M. Garcia
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Jose Garcia was 18 years old when he fatally shot 19-year-old Gabriel Gonzales on March 10, 2013, after mistaking him for a rival gang member. He was tried as an adult and received a sentence of 37 years for the murder, with another 25 years tacked on for personally firing the shot that killed the Zion teen.

But in a decision handed down last week by the Second District Appellate Court, justices said a Lake County judge should reconsider the punishment -- a de facto life sentence, they say -- because while Garcia may have been an adult in years, there's evidence that he may not have been so in mind.

At the heart of the case are U.S. Supreme Court and Illinois Supreme Court decisions that say life sentences -- or de facto life sentences -- are unconstitutional for juveniles unless the judge finds the teen "showed irretrievable depravity, permanent incorrigibility, or irreparable corruption beyond the possibility of rehabilitation."

In reports filed after his conviction, a developmental psychologist wrote that Garcia was raised in a "toxic and developmentally damaging" home environment that included abuse and abandonment. That, the psychologist wrote, left him with "immaturity of thought and emotional control, impetuous and impulsive action, and failure to appreciate the full consequences of his criminal behavior."

While the appellate court stopped short of ordering a new sentence for Garcia, it remanded his case back to the Lake County court for a hearing to determine whether the 62-year sentence amounts to an unconstitutional life term.

"Defendant committed a heinous crime," Justice Ann B. Jorgensen wrote in the unanimous ruling. "However, the trial court did not find that defendant showed 'irretrievable depravity, permanent incorrigibility, or irreparable corruption beyond the possibility of rehabilitation.' Indeed, there was significant evidence to suggest that defendant was not so. He was of borderline intelligence and fearful of social rejection, which made him vulnerable to gang pressure."

We reached out to officials at the Lake County state's attorney's office to see if they planned to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court or argue the case before a county judge. They declined to comment.

Red flag training

Law enforcement continues to grapple with questions about how the suspect in the mass shooting at Highland Park's Independence Day parade was able to obtain multiple guns, despite red flags that were reported to state authorities.

Antioch Police Chief Geoff Guttschow speaks Wednesday as the department hosted hundreds of law enforcement officers for a training session on the state's Firearms Restraining Order Act.
Antioch Police Chief Geoff Guttschow speaks Wednesday as the department hosted hundreds of law enforcement officers for a training session on the state's Firearms Restraining Order Act. - Courtesy of the Antioch Police Department

With that in mind, the Antioch Police Department hosted the Illinois attorney general's office, the Lake County state's attorney's office and more than 100 members of local law enforcement for an educational/training event Wednesday covering the Firearms Restraining Order Act.

The training was designed to help police handle situations where firearms restraining orders are needed to protect individuals from harming others or themselves, while still preserving Second Amendment rights, the department said.

Be prepared

The Kane County sheriff's office is offering a full-day Surviving an Active Shooter presentation to community members on a pair of upcoming Saturdays.

The program, officials say, will raise your level of awareness and help you develop a plan of action and recognize life-threatening bleeding. Attendees also will participate in a practical exercise.

The presentation will be led by sheriff's Lt. Kevin Williams, who since 2007 has conducted active shooter presentations across Kane County to raise awareness and provide tactical preparedness direction to businesses, schools and churches.

The events are set for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, and Saturday, Sept. 3. To register, visit https://tinyurl.com/mrynv6wu.

The sheriff's office also offers Surviving an Active Shooter presentations to groups by scheduling an appointment through Williams at williamskevin@co.kane.il.us. For more information, call Williams at (630) 208-2042 or contact him at the above email address.

• Do you have a tip or a comment? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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