The Mind of an Arsonist

Psychologist gives a glimpse as to why a person would set fires

It's hard to look away from a huge fire, and psychologists say that's often true for the person who sets the fire as well.

"The perps...they come back to watch the fireman come on the scene they did's all very exciting."

Temple University psychologist Doctor Frank Farley has analyzed many arson fires and doesn't hold out much hope that a criminal profiler will find the person responsible for the Coatesville fires. He says the science just isn't there.

"Unfortunately profiling hasn't been as successful as we hoped it would be…someday I think we will be there but we aren't even close at this point," Dr. Farley said.

He says arsonists tend to fall into different groups, those looking for revenge, profit or thrills.

"It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, there's intensity. There is also some argument that it shows up early in who set fires early in their life and get a thrill setting fires," said Dr. Farley.

Arsonists tend to be younger men, but as society changes more women are starting fires, according to the doctor.

He thinks the large number of fires could indicate a serial arsonist, whom he says, is very rare. The numbers could also indicate more than one arsonist is involved.

"One of the categories of motivation for arsonists is believed extremism and it could be extremism defined by a gang or a cult; somebody who has an extreme position in society,” Dr. Farley said.

Dr. Farley says arsonists often believe what they're doing won't hurt anyone. They rationalize it by saying -- it's not as serious as shooting someone, for example.

He believes those involved could have very serious mental illness, but the good news is many arsonists are eventually caught.

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