Letters to the Editor: Restorative justice won’t cut it for the gender-reveal fire starters

A firefighter helps set backfires as the El Dorado fire approaches in Yucaipa on Sept. 7.
A firefighter helps set backfires as the El Dorado fire approaches in Yucaipa on Sept. 7.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Your editorial calls for a non-carceral punishment for the couple whose pyrotechnic device at a gender-reveal party last September set off a 23,000-acre fire that killed a firefighter and burned multiple structures. Essentially, you want restorative justice rather than retribution.

But how can these people make whole the dead firefighter’s family? Re-seed 23,000 acres and give life to all the animals burned alive? Heal the trauma of the thousands forced to flee their homes, or those who lost their homes and everything in them? Did some of the 13 people who were injured sustain painful and disfiguring burns? How can they possibly be made near whole again?

They can’t. About the only thing the couple can do is say they are sorry.

If we opt for restorative justice, these people will walk free leaving a trail of trauma, death and vast destruction in their wake, while meeting with and apologizing to some of their victims and doing some community service. If we opt for retributive justice, they go to prison for many years, depriving them of their freedom, their home, their marriage, their children and other things they deprived so many others of.


I am not generally a big advocate of retribution, but in this case, I would opt for some prison time for both of them.

Mary Ellen Barnes, San Pedro


To the editor: I agree with nearly all of your editorial about what society should do about the couple whose gender-reveal party led to death and destruction.

As a current and longtime volunteer for the city of Los Angeles’ Neighborhood Justice Program (a restorative justice program that diverts nonviolent misdemeanor offenders from the court system), I have overwhelming, consistent, firsthand evidence of restorative justice working in theory and in practice.

Thus, I have to wonder why The Times felt the need to indicate that restorative justice methods often aren’t satisfying “in practice.”

The recidivism rate in the city’s Neighborhood Justice Program is extremely low compared with those who go through the regular court system. I wish you had thought through your little dig at restorative justice, as I know you have run articles on very successful restorative justice programs in the past.


Jon Neustadter, Los Angeles