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Home / US / Parkland has helped to raise the alert on Vermont Teen School Shooting Plan: NPR

Parkland has helped to raise the alert on Vermont Teen School Shooting Plan: NPR



  A young man in Vermont reportedly had plans to shoot people at his former high school - plans that were thwarted because the system was working.

Leonardo Santamaria for NPR

  A young man in Vermont reportedly had plans to shoot people at his former high school - plans that were thwarted because the system was working.

Leonardo Santamaria for NPR

It was sunny and cold on February 13, 2018, when 18-year-old Jack Sawyer arrived with a brand new pump-action shotgun and four packs of ammunition from Rick's sporting goods store in Rutland, Vt.

The next day, Valentine's Day, Sawyer brought out his new weapon to practice.

At about the same time, about 1,500 miles away in Parkland, Florida, a 19-year-old shot and shot 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Not long after, Vermont learned that it might have narrowly avoided a similar massacre. The state police said they arrested Sawyer after allegedly threatening mass victims at his former high school in Fair Haven, a small town near the New York border.

The police said Sawyer had described his plans in detail: He told them that he had read books on the Columbine shootings in 1999 and that he had a relationship with the two shooters. Sawyer said he had moved back to Vermont to fulfill a similar plan at Fair Haven Union High School.

He also had the police search his car, where they found the shotgun and ammunition he had legally bought, and a journal entitled "The Journal of Active Sagittarius."

But the Fair Haven Union High School did not join Marjory Stoneman Douglas or Santa Fe or Columbine or Virginia Tech.

In many ways, the system worked: someone saw something, said something, and the police made it an arrest. But what happened next would create a fundamental tension at the heart of our criminal justice system: when does a thought – or plan – become a crime?

"I know I need to tell someone right away"

The police said they monitored Sawyer after they got a tip from Jennifer Mortenson on February 14th. Her daughter was Sawyer in Fair Haven Union a few years ahead, and Mortenson was aware that Sawyer had threatened high school in the US past. She was alerted when she heard from a friend of her daughter that Sawyer had bought a weapon. Then Parkland passed and Mortenson decided to alert the police.

The officials responded, but after questioning Sawyer, they hired that they had no reason to arrest him.

Then a friend of Sawyer named Angela McDevitt spoke.

A few days before Parkland, Sawyer, and McDevitt had been using Facebook Messenger on Facebook. According to a police report, Sawyer told McDevitt, "A few days ago, I planned to destroy my old high school."

McDevitt was shocked and scared – she was not sure what to do. Then she heard about Parkland and told him so.

Sawyer's answer stunned her: "That's fantastic," he wrote. "100% support."

. I remember staring at my phone as I thought, "Oh my god." I was so shocked, "McDevitt says," I just thought, you can not say that, people are dead. "And then I thought," I know, I have to tell someone right away. "

The next morning, On February 15, McDevitt showed the news to authorities near her home in New York State, and the Vermont State Police had Sawyer detained early in the afternoon.

At the police station, Sawyer was taken to a small room and two officers The Vermont State Police Interviewed The detectives recorded their conversation on video and the record was included in the court records showing how the police tell Sawyer that his mother and father are waiting outside, and the 18-year-old says he will rather talk to the police without his parents.

Some students and five employees left Fair Haven Union High School after learning of Sawyer's threat and the school entrance – here shortly after his arrest – was redesigned for security reasons.

Nina Keck / VPR


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Nina Keck / VPR

Some students and five employees left Fair Haven Union High School after learning of Sawyer's threat. And the school entrance – to see here shortly after his arrest – was redesigned for security reasons.

Nina Keck / VPR

For several hours, Sawyer shows that he's been thinking about attacking his old school, and he wants to set a new record: the highest death rate for a school shooter – more than 32 people.

He says he would kill himself when he was done: "If I ever die, I would like it."

And he says his arrest would only delay his plan.

Sawyer also reveals that he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and was treated at a therapeutic boarding school in Maine. At the time, detectives did not know that this was just part of Sawyer's many years of mental health history.

The "overwhelming experience" of being treated

Lawyers are often bursting when people engage in mental health discussions about mass shooters. They argue that people with severe mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

But talking to Sawyer's family and close friends keeps drawing attention to his mental illness.

His former classmates from Fair Haven Union say that Sawyer was at first funny and nice, if a bit shy and distant. In the tenth grade, he had become more distant and posted disturbing things on Facebook. He did a housework on Columbine and brought a book about the shootings to school.

In the spring of 2016, school staff, counselors, and law enforcement agencies began working with Sawyer's family to create a plan. They wanted to get Sawyer to safety and make sure he did not hurt anyone.

But on the same day that Sawyer was meeting with the Headmaster to discuss this plan, he broke off. Not long after, a friend told Sawyer's mother Lyn Wolk that her son was suicidal.

Five-year-old Jack Sawyer on a farm near his hometown Poultney, Vt., Sawyer's mother Lyn Wolk says The public only knows their son through news: "The Jack they see is the Jack in handcuffs and shackles. … you do not see the other pages of Jack. "

Courtesy of Lyn Wolk


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Courtesy of Lyn Wolk

Five-year-old Jack Sawyer on a farm near his hometown Poultney, Vt. Sawyer's mother, Lyn Wolk, says the public only knows her son through news: "The Jack you see is the Jack in handcuffs and shackles … you do not see the other sides of Jack."

Courtesy by Lyn Wolk

"It's a very overwhelming experience to figure that out," says Wolk in an interview at her home in July 2018.

She is tense and sitting upright in her office. It is clearly difficult to talk about, and she chooses her words carefully.

Wolk says it's not easy to find help for her son – especially in a small, rural state like Vermont. Friends would recommend therapists in the area, but none of them picked up new patients. There is also a shortage of psychiatrists in the state, especially psychiatrists who see children. It was therefore difficult to find out about her son's medication.

"We knew what he needed, we knew what would appeal to him," Wolk recalls. "But we knew there was nothing like it in our area."

"Huge accusation!"

In February 2018, Rose Kennedy, Rutland County prosecutor, commissioned Sawyer with four charges of crimes: two charges for attempted murder and one charge each of attempted first-degree murder and attempted a deadly weapon assault.

These charges are among the most serious in Vermont's Criminal Code. An attempted murder is punishable by the same punishment as an actual murder charge: life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Kennedy petitioned to detain Sawyer without bail, and a lower court agreed.

In Fair Haven, where Sawyer reportedly planned to carry out his attack, many people said that they felt safe.

But Sawyer's public defender Kelly Green believed the prosecutor had gone too far.

"Huge accusation, huge!" Says Green and shakes his head. "Not only because the allegations were so grave, but because the facts were not there, the facts did not support the allegation that Jack did not commit these crimes."

She believes that there was a better option – civil engagement. This meant that a court had to take Sawyer to a psychiatric hospital where he could get help.

Kennedy, the prosecutor, said she did not seek a civil liability because she had no access to Sawyer's medical records and there was no guarantee that the court would grant her application. And more importantly, Kennedy says she believed that Sawyer had attempted to kill – that his plans and preparations deserved the indictment.

However, legal experts in Vermont began to quickly discuss whether the charges went too far – and whether the state went down a slippery slope of persecution of thought. They asked thorny questions like:

Should anyone be allowed to think, "I want to shoot my old school"?

Or write it down In a magazine?

Or do you do that and then buy a weapon?

In other words, has Sawyer ever violated the law?

Jared Carter, assistant professor at Vermont Law School, says no – at least not according to the law, as it was written when Sawyer was arrested.

He points to a groundbreaking case in 1906 over a Vermont prisoner convicted of attempting to escape. The prisoner turned to the Vermont Supreme Court, which overturned the conviction.

"Many people might say," Well, wait a minute. The guy collected metal saw blades to break out of the jail. Why is not that enough? "Carter explains. "And I think the reason is that he might have had this design, that he might have had that idea, that he could have bought some blades, but in fact he had done nothing and in this country "We Criminalize Acts – No Thoughts."

Sawyer's defense lawyers made a similar case. They argued that Sawyer had not tried any of the crimes he was accused of and therefore could not be held without bail. And as with the suspected prisoner, the case went to the Supreme Court. The thirteen-year-old Jack celebrates the end of the school year with a huge banana split. His mother says it's not easy to find help for her son – especially in a small, rural state like Vermont.

Courtesy of Lyn Wolk


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Courtesy of Lyn Wolk

Thirteen-year-old Jack celebrates the end of the school year with a huge banana split. His mother says it's not easy finding help for her son – especially in a small rural state like Vermont.

Courtesy of Lyn Wolk

In early April 2018, the judges heard arguments from both sides: Prosecutor Kennedy said that his move from Maine to Vermont, where he had lived, actually started the war because Sawyer had so many details about his intent to assassinate students, contained murder act.

"If that happens, is it important what he does afterwards?" Judge Harold Eaton asked during the procedure. "He could say," You know, I changed my mind ", throwing the gun away and going back to Maine, he's still guilty?"

Kennedy said he was guilty under the laws of Vermont

] Sawyer's defense attorney disagreed, pointing out that Sawyer had been arrested nearly a month before the date he had chosen for his attack.

The judges sided with Sawyer. They said he might have prepared for a crime, but that's not the same as trying to commit a crime, and that means he could be released on bail.

The verdict forced Kennedy to reject all four allegations. She had added two offenses to prosecute Sawyer's case, but they were much less severe – at the time they were in jail together for a maximum of three years.

Sawyer's family quickly posted a $ 10,000 bail and end of April 2018. The 18-year-old boy was released from prison. He agreed to move to a mental hospital in Vermont, and the court ordered him to stay away from Fair Haven Union High School and McDevitt, his friend who alerted the police.

Roaring in a Crowded Theater ]

Kennedy says she respects the Supreme Court's decision, but she wonders what will happen when the next Jack Sawyer arrives.

"There is still a gap in jurisdiction in Vermont," she says. "There has to be a place where law enforcement agencies should be able to prevent a terrible crime that occurs much earlier in this continuum than when somebody actually appears to commit the crime."

Following the decision of the Vermont Supreme Court, the judges declare that they interpret the laws only as they were written. It's up to the legislator to change Vermont's trial laws. About three months after Sawyer's arrest, the legislature passed a new law on "domestic terrorism."

Some states have been able to accuse youths who have threatened to use violence with terrorist threats, much like fire in a crowded theater. The Chief Legal Officer of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia says it is difficult to know when something is a real threat acceptable limits on how we can punish terrorist threats. "

" They no longer take a threat "

In August 2018, Sawyer's attorneys were able to turn his adult criminal court into a family court, keeping it confidential and offering more treatment options.

In March His case was decided in 2019 – more than a year after Sawyer's arrest – the 19-year-old was convicted as a juvenile offender for carrying a dangerous weapon, an offense.

Normally we would not know that – family court matters do not become public But lawyers on both sides and Sawyer's family felt it was important to keep the community informed of his whereabouts, and the judge agreed, Mother of the Columbine Shooter: I carry him "everywhere" ten years later, Virginia Tech Instructor Recalls Their Students' Response to the Tragedy “/>

Sawyer's mother Wolk said He emailed her son to a safe treatment facility outside Vermont in late April. He will remain under the supervision of Vermont's Corrections Department and the Department of Children and Family until his 22nd birthday. According to the prosecutor, he may not own firearms.

Wolk says last year has been heartbreaking for her family, but she believes that her son's case has led to positive developments in Vermont – such as the new law on domestic terrorism, new arms control laws, and higher state funding for the country Safety of schools. And she has had more extensive discussions on issues such as mental health, diversity and school bullying.

Wolk says she is grateful for the outcome of her son's case. That is, he gets "an extra psychological treatment focused on a healthy future, not the mistakes of the past."

But she also knows that his story does not go away.

In Fair Haven, many community members remain torn apart. Some think the courts misunderstood it; Most want Sawyer to get help. But almost everyone is anxious to leave this story behind.

And that was not easy. Some students and five employees left Fair Haven Union because it had happened.

The social teacher Julia Adams remained. But she says she is still angry, and she fears that Sawyer will someday execute his threat.

"They do not threaten my children in my classroom or my colleagues," says Adams.

"Who knows if he will get the help he needs, or if anything ever changes with him … They no longer take a threat more easily."

She says that there is no real degree – she's just trying to move forward.

This story was released from Vermont Public Radio's JOLTED, a podcast about a shooting that did not take place at school,

Nicole Cohen and for the web.


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