PORTERVILLE, Calif.- Two suspects accused of starting a deadly fire that claimed the lives of two firefighters earlier this week cannot be tried as adults, and the town is outraged.
Tuesday afternoon, firefighters responded to a fire at the Porterville Public Library. Capt. Ramon “Ray” Figueroa, 35, and firefighter Patrick Jones, 25, lost their lives in the blaze.
As news of their deaths spread across the community, located in central California, word began to circulate that the fire may have been deliberately set.
The fire, which was reported at 4:35 p.m. raged into the night before it was finally extinguished, according to the Sacramento Bee. It took dozens of local and state fire departments to put out the fire.
Two 13-year-old boys were seen running from the scene, and they were later arrested and were being held at a juvenile detention center, according to the Associated Press.
According to Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward, the reaction of the community to the arrests were “unusually swift and strong.”
“[Crews] hadn’t even recovered the second firefighter’s body and people were calling and telling us what charges we should file,” Ward told the Washington Post on Thursday.
Ward referenced recent criminal justice reform laws, which he said that the public do not seem to understand.
“Even with the most serious charges of murder, 13-year-olds in California can’t be tried as adults,” Ward said in a video statement shared the day after the fire.
Even in cases of murder, juveniles in California are eligible for release at the age of 25, he said.
“I’m certain this information may be met with outrage,” he said. “This is why myself and many district attorneys across the state were against these changes to the law.”
Detectives from the Porterville Police Department were expected to deliver their police report to the Tulare District Attorney’s Office this past Thursday, according to Police Chief Eric Kroutil.
“Our folks have been working very closely with [prosecutors],” he said. “It’s very challenging…there are very strict limitations on how we can question juveniles.”
He noted that detectives will meet with prosecutors to see what steps they can take going forward.
This case has obviously raised the ire of the community and both police and prosecutors find themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
“Please bear with me as I navigate this in the best, most ethical way that I can,” said Ward. “Always giving priority to preserving the integrity of the process and any potential prosecution of a case.”
Chief Kroutil said that the investigation was ongoing, but police were not releasing too many details.
As far as the actual cause of the fire, Tulare County Fire Capt. Joe Rosa is leading the investigation. Rosa has dozens of arson case investigations across the county under his belt and has a high conviction record.
Capt. Raymond Figueroa joined the fire department in 2007. He passed away on the night of the fire.
Firefighter Patrick Jones, who had been with the department since 2017, was found in the rubble the next night, according to officials.
Residents of the town are curious what the suspects will face as far as consequences for their actions.