2 teens charged in Gatlinburg wildfires live in small East TN to - WSMV Channel 4

2 teens charged in Gatlinburg wildfires live in small East TN town

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Fourteen people were killed in the fires. (WSMV) Fourteen people were killed in the fires. (WSMV)
CLINTON, TN (WSMV) -

Three months after the deadly wildfires in Gatlinburg, there are lingering questions about the two teenagers charged in the crime.

The Channel 4 I-Team has confirmed the teens are from the small town of Clinton, TN. The town is now grappling with the fact that the two people charged in the crime are two of their own.

Clinton wants to be known for its antique shops, restaurants and its history. So having the distinction of being the home of the two teenagers charged with setting the deadly Gatlinburg fires is not a source of pride.

"That could've been my son or my grandson. I don't know, you'll always wonder why, what were you thinking?” said Jim Hardin who has lived in Anderson County for 23 years.

Six counties over, in her family’s restaurant, Megann Thompson has a lot of questions for those two teenagers from Clinton. Her family's home in Gatlinburg burned to the ground.

“We're still all trying to heal, and with no answers, it’s hard to heal,” Thompson said.

It’s a sentiment people in Clinton, a population of 10,000, have as well.

Many people in Clinton told the I-Team they just want answers. If the two teenagers accused of setting the wildfires did in fact do it, then why? Was it accidental or did they mean to cause such significant damage?

But there is a real reason there has been no release of information and it comes from a letter the local district attorney wrote on Dec. 15 denying all public record requests about anything related to the fires. In it, District Attorney General James Dunn wrote, “any releases of information at this time would be extremely premature and could compromise the investigation.”

“We really don't have any information. General Dunn has been very tight-lipped about the investigation and prosecution and what he's looking at. We have to trust General Dunn that he's doing everything he can to get to the truth,” said Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank.

But ask the victims of the fire and the silence surrounding the case is deafening.

"Where is this going, why is it taking so long and why can’t we hear anything?” Thompson asked.

Walk the streets of Clinton and you'll find plenty of people who know the teens and their families personally. All of those people don't want to talk on camera, but Mayor Frank hopes the anger towards the teenagers isn't reflected on this community.

“It happens to be that's where they're from but I don't think that's in any way a representation of the community,” Frank said.

Sources tell the Knoxville News Sentinel the boys are 17 and 15 and were hiking on the Chimney Tops Trail tossing matches onto the ground. That, too, is hard for folks who live here to hear.

“The whole community was devastated. It was a big tragedy to have that fire do what that fire did,” said Bonnie Hedrick who lives in Clinton.

So many questions left unanswered. Where are the teens now? Are they still attending one of the two high schools in Anderson County? And could they face additional charges given that so many people died?

All the fire victims can do is keep asking and keep remembering.

At last check, the two teens remain in Sevier County in juvenile detention. The I-Team called both their attorneys’ offices who would say nothing other than confirm they do represent the suspects.

Sevier County authorities last said in December more charges could be coming and that the teens could be charged as adults. However, so far nothing new has happened.

The I-Team also called the Anderson County School District to ask what their status is as students. The district said it had no comment.

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