The two teenage boys were allegedly caught on film as they walked along a mountain trail and threw lit matches into the forest.
According to a new report published by The Tennessean, the two teenagers, aged 15 and 17, were both arrested and charged with aggravated arson this week after an investigation was launched following horrifying fires that swept through Eastern Tennessee and nearly destroyed the entire town of Gatlinburg.
As reported, several sources who are “familiar with the teenagers and the investigation but not authorized to speak publicly about the case” opened up to the publication about the fires and the teen’s involvement.
The fire, which originated around the Chimney Tops hiking trail, spread quickly throughout Eastern Tennessee and engulfed thousands of acres, killing 14 people and destroying more than 2,400 homes and business in the area.
These sources state the boys were hiking in the Chimney Tops area on November 23rd “and tossing lit matches onto the ground around the trail”.
Surprisingly, an unwitting hiker photographing the area captured the pair of teenagers in a photo as they walked down the trail with smoke billowing in the background. The sources stated that the clothing worn in the photograph was used to identify them during the investigation.
The older boy is alleged to be the child of an Anderson County Sheriff’s Office employee and it has been revealed by sources that the two are friends, however, they may end up being charged differently as Tennessee law allows only for the oldest to be charged as an adult for the aggravated arson.
It has been reported that the two boys are currently detained in the Sevier County Juvenile Center.
Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said during a press conference that authorities are considering more charges for the boys and that trying them in court as adults is possible, adding “all options are on the table”.
As it stands now, the boys have not been charged with murder, however under state law, aggravated arson is a charge that can sustain a felony murder charge if the death were caused by the arson. In this case, both boys could be charged with a possible 14 felony murder charges on top of the aggravated arson.
If convicted, they could find themselves liable not only for the murders and fire, but all of the civil consequences as a result of their alleged actions.
Interestingly, the report by The Tennessean states that if felony murder charges are brought against the boys, the actions or inactions of the National Park Service in their handling of the original fire at Chimney Tops will be considered in the judge’s decision to allow the charges.