Somerville Offering $25,000 Reward For Arrest of Alleged Arsonist

But what motivates someone to compulsively commit these types of crimes?

A series of fires set in separate parts of Somerville this summer remain unsolved, and city officials are trying to rally the community—offering up a $25,000 reward—in order to capture the culprit responsible for the blazes.

A fire was intentionally set on Laurel Terrace on Friday, marking the fourth suspicious fire since June, but officials don’t know the motive or who could be behind them.

James Alan Fox, Ph.D., a professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University, says that it’s a complex issue, and an arsonist’s motivation could be anything from revenge to chasing the high of getting away with a crime. “There is really no one type of arsonist. There are multiple forms. With something like this, it could be anything from a younger person who just enjoys the thrill of setting fires, and creating or wreaking havoc,” he says. “It could also be an act of revenge, or someone that feels slighted by the Fire Department. There are lots of situations.”

Referencing the last two incidents, which were smaller fires, Fox says the alleged arsonist’s motivation could be thrill-oriented, rather than revenge-related.

Since June, four house fires in Somerville have been declared arson, four have been ruled accidental, and five still remain under investigation. Somerville Firefighters responded to two separate two-alarm fires on the morning of August 28. Those two incidents are still under investigation.

From a psychological standpoint, there are many different theories about the various types of arsonist behavior.

According to a study in the Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law called “Firesetting, Arson, Pyromania, and the Forensic Mental Health Expert,” the reason arsons are so prevalent in the United States—more than 62,000 arsons are committed annually with nearly $1 billion in losses per year—is because they are easily committed, and rarely accounted for.

The study, published in 2012, claims that 80 percent of arsonists that indulge in frequent fire-setting are never caught or prosecuted by authorities, making it an ideal crime for someone that thrives off the rush of setting a building aflame. “A skilled person will leave no trace of who they are, and a lot of physical evidence burns up. Not all of these cases are solved,” says Fox.

Additional studies show that males are often to blame when it comes to arson, but pinpointing a particular motivation can be difficult.

City officials in Somerville are hoping that’s not the case for the string of blazes that have put the community on edge, and they are putting some money on the table in order to further their efforts of capturing the bandit.

At 2 p.m. on Friday, Curtatone, Somerville Fire Chief Kevin Kelleher, and Somerville Police Chief Thomas Pasquarello in conjunction with State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan addressed the latest act of arson on Laurel Terrace, which was extinguished before it had time to spread, and said it was “clearly arson.”

City officials are calling on residents for their assistance in reporting any suspicious activity, and urging the community to heed arson prevention warnings.

The reward offered by the city, for any information leading to the arrest and prosecution of any person involved in setting any of the fires, has been doubled from $10,000 to up to $20,000, according to a statement from the city’s director of communications. The Arson Watch Reward Program is also offering up to $5,000 for any information leading to the arrest and prosecution of any person involved with the setting of any of these fires, meaning the total reward now stands at up to $25,000.

Somerville officials hope to arrest the suspect sooner rather than later because according to Fox, as more times passes, more fires could be set. “Often times they will get emboldened by the fact they have not been identified and the frequency will increase,” he says. “They will feel invincible. They will feel investigators aren’t up to the challenge, and they think that they will be able to out-fox them.”