Fire that burned special needs boy in Kerrville not aimed at him, authorities say

Kayden Culp in his hospital bed.
Kayden Culp in his hospital bed. Family photo

A fire that severely burned a special needs child in Kerrville was apparently not set to harm him, as was initially believed, the Kerrville police chief said Thursday.

Kayden Culp, 10, has been in a drug-induced coma at University Hospital in Kerrville with second- and third-degree burns since the incident Sunday. On Wednesday, authorities arrested another boy and charged him with arson.

Kayden’s family has maintained that Kayden was the victim of bullying. He has a hearing impairment and speaks with a lisp, and his parents told the San Antonio Express-News and other news outlets that he has borne the brunt of jokes in the past.

“They make fun of him. ... That’s just the way it is. The kids are really mean,” his aunt Alike Richardson told the Express-News on Wednesday.

But at a news conference on Thursday police and fire officials said that bullying might not be to blame here. Police Chief David Knight said results of an investigation suggest that Kayden was in a shed on a vacant lot with three other boys and they started a fire. One of the boys poured gas on the flames to make them grow, causing a cascading flash fire that burned Kayden, he said.

Fire Chief Dannie Smith said: “It does not appear that this event was premeditated or that there was any intent to harm any of the juveniles present.”

Afterward, a family member of the arrested juvenile told KSAT-TV that the fire was a regrettable accident.

"We know that these kids, like I said before, are all friends," she said. "He didn't deliberately do this and go over there and throw this gasoline on top of him. ... They were messing with it, so somebody went this way, and it splashed everywhere."

But Tristyn Hatchett, Kayden’s mother, told the Express-News on Wednesday that a relative of one of the three other boys told her that one of them had poured gasoline on Kayden and another had ignited it.

"The other boys who were there have been telling kids at school that it was not an accident, that it was intentional," she’s quoted as saying.

News of the case spread across land and sea:

The investigation is still open, authorities said Thursday.

Tom Uhler: 817-390-7832, @tomuh