County attorney Art Goff refuses all comment, citing juvenile protections
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 juvenile court yesterday [Wednesday, June 14] for his criminal trial.
However, prosecuting attorney Art Goff declined all comment after the trial.
As best as the Rappahannock News could determine before going to press, the student remained in the custody of law enforcement after yesterday’s court proceedings. Whether the student entered a plea of guilty or not-guilty could not be determined.
Meanwhile, upon leaving their son’s trial yesterday, the parents of the juvenile suspect verbally attacked the editor of the Rappahannock News, saying he was a “come-here” whose only desire “is to bring down Rappahannock County.”
“Go on back and write what a horrible place Rappahannock is,” the father shouted across the lawn of the courthouse, his sentiments echoed loudly by his wife.
Reached after the trial yesterday, Goff, who is prosecutor of the case, repeatedly declined to comment on any of yesterday’s court proceedings. He said if the Rappahannock News wanted the law changed it would have to appeal to the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond.
Culpeper County Juvenile Judge Christian A. Brashear was on the bench for yesterday’s trial at the Rappahannock County Courthouse.
“You know I can’t tell you anything,” the judge told the Rappahannock News upon arrival at the courthouse.
Goff explained in no uncertain terms that there are “statutory protections” surrounding this juvenile suspect, regardless of the seriousness of the crime committed. According to the court affidavit, the student counted down the days to “make Columbine look like a joke” and “blow this place to pieces” — allegedly referring to Rappahannock County High School.
The affidavit stated that the 17-year-old had an alleged 16-year-old accomplice, also a student at Rappahannock High School.
To the best of this newspaper’s knowledge no charges have been brought against the younger student, although Sheriff Connie Compton last told us that the investigation is “always continuing.” Leading the investigation is Rappahannock Chief Deputy Major J.D. Arstino Jr., who was present for yesterday’s proceedings.
The 17-year-old has been defended by the Virginia Public Defenders Office, which also declined comment yesterday.
But according to the affidavit, “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.’”
It was a fellow student of the 17 and 16-year-old suspects who sounded the alarm to authorities, the affidavit states, possibly averting a major tragedy.