By John McCaslin and Patty Hardee
Rappahannock News staff
A 17-year-old student arrested in April by the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s office for conspiracy to possess a firearm on the property of Rappahannock County High School was back in Rappahannock County juvenile court for a motions hearing last Thursday and had his trial date set for June 14.
Midway through a hearing that lasted about three hours, the student, who is not being identified because he is a juvenile, was seen being led by a sheriff’s deputy out the back door of the Rappahannock County Courthouse to a waiting patrol car that transported him back to the detention center where he is being held..
The boy’s parents, who live just outside the town of Washington, attended the hearing, which was closed to the media. The father carried a plastic bag of contents, including a pair of high-top sneakers, into the courthouse for his son.
When asked if they had intended to take their son home that day, the mom quickly replied no. The father answered “no comment” to all subsequent questions from this newspaper.
Rappahannock County Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff, who is prosecuting the case, was on hand for last Thursday’s motions hearing — held after the preliminary hearing and before a criminal case goes to trial.
Also in attendance were Rappahannock Sheriff Connie Compton and Chief Deputy Major J.D. Arstino Jr., who is leading the investigation.
The 17-year-old is being defended by the Virginia Public Defenders Office.
According to a court affidavit obtained by the Rappahannock News, both the suspect and an alleged 16-year-old accomplice, also a student at the high school, reportedly counted down the days to “make Columbine look like a joke” and “blow this place to pieces.”
They were allegedly referring to Rappahannock County High School.
It was a fellow student of the two student suspects who sounded the alarm to authorities, according to the affidavit, possibly averting a major tragedy.
To this date, the whereabouts of the 16 year old cannot be determined. The sheriff’s office has declined to comment on the additional suspect.
Reached on Tuesday of this week, Sheriff Compton said the investigation is “ongoing.”
According to the affidavit obtained by this newspaper, “On April 5, 2017, while at Rappahannock County High School, [the 17 year old] was overheard speaking with at least one other student where he gave a ‘countdown’ stating ‘fifteen more days,’ indicating the number of days left until the date of April 20, 2017” — the 18th anniversary of the Columbine massacre in Colorado.
During the same exchange, the 17 year old was seen showing a photograph on a cellular device to one if not more students: “The photograph depicted [the 17 and 16 year old] dressed all in black clothing, black hats and wearing sunglasses and [the 16 year old] commented while showing the photograph, ‘I can’t wait for four twenty.’”
The 17 year old reportedly “disclosed having ‘ordered’ an amount of explosives to be used during the school incident as well. [The student] showed a photograph on a cellular device to at least one other person and stating, ‘This is what I’ve got, are you ready for this?’”
As for additional weapons, the affidavit states that the 17 year old “referred to pulling a pistol out of a backpack. [The student] is described as very guarded with his backpack in school and will not allow anyone to touch it and makes statements implying it contains something of value. [The 17 year old] has also made the statement, ‘I’ll save that for another day’ when referring to what the backpack contains.
“When referencing firearms, [the 17 year old] has specifically referenced bringing a ‘Tech 9’ [assault pistol] and ‘M-4’ [assault rifle] to school and has discussed using a twelve (12) gauge shotgun to discharge ‘birdshot’ ammunition down a hallway of the school,” the document states.
The suspect, it continues, “has also made statements of ‘blowing his brains out’ with a 12 gauge shotgun.”
“In conversations during this time frame, [the 16 year old] has discussed his role as a coconspirator with [the 17 year old]. [The 16 year old] would make references of black bags containing ammunition, and backpacks containing pistols and rifles. [The 16 year old] further stated in conversation ‘I can’t forget the black bag under the lunch table.’
“When discussing their movements inside of the school while possessing the firearms, [the 17 year old] has stated ‘I will be the head guy and you just come up behind me’ and [the 16 year old’s] response was ‘Oh, sounds like a plan boss.’”