STERLING – The two boys shuffled into the courtroom in shackles, one after the other.
The smaller of the two walked in first, looking so much like the taller boy behind him. Both had short-cropped hair, the younger’s blond, the older’s brown. Both wore rectangular glasses: The first’s frames were dark, the second’s wire-rimmed.
The 12-year-old was swimming in an oversized green sweatshirt and jean shorts; his 16-year-old half brother wore a blue T-shirt and denim cutoffs.
Each is charged as a juvenile with residential arson, arson, and criminal damage to property exceeding $100,000, all felonies. If convicted, they could be held in a juvenile facility until they turn 21.
Investigators say the pair, who are staying with their dad and stepmother for the summer, set a fire in a plastic recycling bin full of paper and cardboard behind Cindy Jean’s Restaurant in the historic downtown in Prophetstown around 2:30 a.m. Monday.
The ensuing blaze destroyed eight buildings, damaged two others, and left more than a half-dozen people homeless.
Their grandfather, father and stepmother, and the mother and grandmother of the older boy, who lives in Wisconsin, lined one of the rows behind the young defendants, who appeared in Whiteside County Court’s eastern branch in Sterling, where juvenile hearings are held.
Their father, head back, eyes closed during the minutes of their arrival, now looked on intently. Tears from the older boy’s mother were momentarily stifled.
Seated on separate sides of the court, the two boys sat quietly as Associate Judge Michael Albert began the detention hearing, first addressing the 12-year-old, who lives with his mother in New York.
He will be kept on detention, under 24-hour surveillance, at his father’s house, the judge said.
The boy raised his handcuffed hands to push his glasses up his nose.
“Yes, your honor,” he said, nodding strongly.
The 16-year-old looked on, tears beginning to stream down his left cheek.
As the judge turned to address him, the teen’s face turned red, the tears falling a little faster. A bailiff handed him a box of tissues.
He will remain in custody, the judge said, at the Mary Davis Home in Galesburg, the juvenile lockup where both boys spent Tuesday night.
The hearing was brief.
“We love you!” their family called, erupting in tears as they were escorted from the room.
Whiteside County Assistant State’s Attorney Carol Linkowski, and attorney Mark Holldorf of Sterling, who represents the 16-year-old, declined to comment after the hearing.
It was the family who alerted authorities to the boys’ involvement in the fire, Prophetstown Police Chief Mike Fisk said.
In town for the summer, the two had been knocking on doors and ringing doorbells earlier in the evening; they sneaked out of their dad’s house later, Fisk said.
Flames engulfed the 150-year-old buildings about 2:30 a.m. Monday, but by that evening, a meeting already was underway in Prophetstown to discuss plans to rebuild the historic structures, the hulks of which were demolished Monday afternoon for safety’s sake.
The older boy’s next hearing is set for Tuesday at 10 a.m.; the younger’s for July 30 at 11 a.m.
Because the boys are charged as juveniles, Sauk Valley Media is not reporting their identities.