|“||I'll burn the whole town down.||”|
Born sometime in 1984, Wheeler's parents both died in a house fire, and both he and his sister Tina were sent to live with their grandparents in Royal, Indiana. Wheeler was more traumatized by the fire and the deaths of their parents than Tina, showing signs of being emotionally unbalanced. Over time, he became fixated on Tina, his sister having become his entire world, disturbing the townspeople, who came to believe Wheeler's love for his sister was incestuous. Word spread quickly of his "depravity," and he became a pariah, even being expelled from school due to the rumors.
In 1998, Wheeler and Tina made plans to go to the Spring Formal, which was being held at the community center. On the night of the dance, Wheeler was attacked and brutally beaten by a group of men outside of the community center, sustaining numerous critical injuries (which included broken bones and a punctured lung) and nearly dying. No real effort was made to investigate the attack, as no one, not even Wheeler, would ever talk about it. Fearing for their grandson's life, Wheeler's grandparents, after talking to the chief of police, sent him to a boarding school in Colorado, severing all ties between him and Tina and changing his surname to Boren, his mother's maiden name. Wheeler attended school for a year and a half but was sentenced to juvenile hall for three years for an unspecified crime, presumably for setting a fire. Released when he was sixteen, Wheeler fell off the grid for five years, eventually resurfacing in Franklin, where he purchased a large amount of gasoline and started several nuisance fires, burning a trash can, a Christmas tree, and an abandoned shed.
House on Fire
After the Franklin fires, Wheeler disappeared again, laying low for some time before returning to Royal in 2009, where he began an arson spree, setting fire to a convenience store, a restaurant, and the recreation center. The first two fires were victimless, while the recreation center fire killed twelve people, with no survivors. Two days after the recreation centerfire, Wheeler burns down a theater, sealing the exits and turning off the main water line to ensure fatalities. A total of nineteen people die, once again with no survivors. Hours later, as most of the townspeople and the BAU are attending a memorial service for all those who have died in the fires, Wheeler enters Pop's Place, a bar owned by Tina's fiancé Jason Elliot. Continually switching seats in the bar to get a good layout of the place, Wheeler leaves, seals the exits, pours a large amount of gasoline and throws a Molotov cocktail through the window, causing the bar to erupt in flames, killing four (including Elliot) and hospitalizing the bartender, who presumably dies later on. Returning to his hideout, Wheeler broods for some time, trying to write a letter, but scrapping them multiple times.
Then, he travels to Tina's home, where he forcibly takes her to the community center. There, Wheeler admits to being the arsonist, telling Tina he killed her fiancé and the other townspeople so they could not stop them from being together, claiming they are soul mates. Becoming more and more erratic, Wheeler begins trying to make Tina remember the Spring Formal, which he begins hallucinating. When Tina begins rejecting him due to all that he has done and the fact they are siblings, Wheeler grows agitated, his condition worsens when the police and BAU, who have discovered his past and track him down, burst in. Refusing Hotch and Carlson's orders to let Tina go, Wheeler knocks over a can of gasoline and lights a match, threatening to kill himself and Tina. Appealing to his love for Tina, Hotch and Rossi manage to calm Wheeler down, causing him to regain his senses and let Tina go. Dropping the burnt-out match, Wheeler tells Tina he loves her as he is handcuffed and hauled away by the police. Because of the hallucinations, his obsession with Tina and fire, and his delusion of him and Tina being the only residents in their hometown with no one to bother them anymore, he is probably deemed unfit for trial and institutionalized.
Based on the limited population of Royal, the unsub is most likely a male between the ages of 17 to 30. The fires of the recreational center, the restaurant, and the movie theater were all indicative of a "revenge arsonist", someone who is seeking retaliation for a perceived injustice, whether real or imagined. Revenge arsonists often target group headquarters, such as churches or government buildings. This unsub chooses local gathering places with a large number of potential victims inside. It is clear that he has chosen to target the community as a whole. That meant that the arsonist is a local, someone who lived or grew up in Royal, Indiana. Despite the fact that he is from Royal, however, he feels like an outsider, as if his community had wronged him in some type of way. The fires are his way of striking back, trying to draw attention to himself. The fires not only killed innocent people, it also gave the unsub a sense of power over the community, choosing who lived and who died. But somehow, the first few fires were lacking. They didn't exact the correct measure of punishment or attract enough attention or they didn't attract the attention of a certain person. Like most arsonists, he liked to watch the fires he created, relishing the destruction.
The bar fire didn't increase the number of victims, as the previous two fatal fires went from twelve to nineteen casualties, but reduced them, which is the reason the third fire was a key to the investigation. The unsub isn't striking out at the community as a whole anymore; now, he is striking out at one or more specific individuals. This type of rage would stem from things or memories people tend to keep buried, things they just do not talk about.
When Wheeler committed his last three arsons in Royal, he would set his fires in local gathering places, hoping that Jason would be in one of them. He primarily started them with gasoline and matches, though the bar fire was started with a Molotov cocktail since he was unfamiliar with the layout of the bar. To ensure his fires would cause the most fatalities, Tommy would block or lock all the available exits, disable all fire suppression equipment in the building, and also start one or two smaller fires, meaning that no matter how fast the fire department respond, the victims would likely all be dead, usually from smoke inhalation caused by the main fire and the companion ones. He wore gloves to ensure he didn't leave behind fingerprints on the items, but he would take off one while lighting his matches using his thumb since his fingers were coarse enough. With his first two arsons in Royal, he set in in a convenience store and restaurant, both of which were empty at the time, presumably as practice runs for his later arsons.
Wheeler seems to have been based on Bruce George Peter Lee - Both were mentally ill serial arsonists, serial killers, and mass murderers who killed over two dozens people, were raised by their grandparents when they were young, committed some of their arson fires out of revenge, and would later be institutionalized due to their mental illnesses.
Wheeler may have also been based on Julio González - Both were mass murderers and arsonists who were motivated by something to do with their romantic lives (Wheeler wanted to be alone with his sister who he had a crush on, while González had an argument with his girlfriend), used gasoline to start their fires, their massacres involved the exits being blocked off, and they killed several dozen victims.
He is similar to Martin Bryant - Both are killers and arsonists with histories of mental illness and bizarre behavior, left school because of their behaviors, both lost at least one parent (Bryant's father committed suicide, while Wheeler's parents died in a fire), had obsessions with a woman, committed their attacks in the wake of another crime (Bryant's massacre happened after the Dunblane massacre, while Wheeler was assaulted before his), and in their attacks they utilized fire, attacked numerous places at a popular tourist site, and killed at least 35 people.