A pupil who put up a Facebook post of him holding a ‘gun’ and saying he was going to go and “shoot up” a school, sparked a police lockdown of students, a court heard.
The boy (17), who cannot be named because of his age, was 15 at the time of the incident.
Earlier this year at Coleraine Youth Court the teenager pleaded guilty to three charges of ‘sending menacing messages via electronic communications’. He pleaded guilty to a charge that ‘on a date unknown between the 9th of September 2016 and the 13th day of September 2016’ he ‘sent by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character, namely sent a picture of you holding an imitation firearm, in that it had the appearance of being a firearm, together with the comment ‘getting ready for school’.’
The second charge he admitted involved sending a message which stated: ‘Tryna figure out what to listen to before I go on my school shooting spree. Gotta make sure I pick the right song’.
The third charge the boy pleaded guilty to was sending a message ‘showing a person making a gun gesture followed by the words ‘tic toc’.’
The teen also admitted six counts of possessing indecent photographs of children.
The boy was back at the Youth Court on Tuesday September 11 for sentencing where he was made the subject of a Youth Conference Order.
Prosecutor James Brady told the court that on September 12, 2016, pupils from Our Lady of Lourdes School in Ballymoney alerted teachers that the youth had shared on social media an image of him with a ‘gun’ and the defendant was saying he was listening to his favourite music “before I go and shoot up the school”.
Police were alerted and the school put on “lockdown” with pupils not allowed out. It was established the defendant was not at school nor he had he been on the school bus and police rushed to his home address where they arrested him.
Officers seized a “silver cowboy style pistol”.
The defendant told police he recorded the message on Facebook “as a joke” and he had no intention of shooting up the school.
He said the gun was a toy gun he found in a neighbour’s garden.
Indecent images of children were also found on a laptop including two deemed to be in the most serious category. The teenager told police a video of him with ‘guns’ was “part of an art project”.
Defence barrister Stephen Mooney accepted it was a “uniquely troubling and alarming” case.
He told the court: “Thank Heavens we have good gun control legislation in this jurisdiction”. He said, fortunately, such cases did not occur often at schools here.
Added Mr Mooney: “Whatever alarming traits or symptoms, they have not manifested themselves whatsoever in the two years since”.
The lawyer said that since 2016 the boy had been on stringent bail conditions including a prohibition on accessing the internet. Mr Mooney said the youth indicated there was never any intention of carrying out the acts.
He said the boy had no means to do so and only had a “cap gun”. The lawyer acknowledged the distress the incident caused at the school but added: “This was a disgraceful piece of humour on his behalf, nothing more than that”.
Mr Mooney said school staff had highlighted the boy’s “caring side”.
The barrister said there had been difficulties in terms of the teenager’s “personality and identity” and that he had attempted “black humour” and had no animosity against the school or any person there.
The lawyer said the court should take into account the boy was only 15 at the time of the offences and had pleaded guilty. The court was told a Youth Conference Plan included the boy writing a letter of apology and an internet prohibition.
Mr Mooney said it was as “intensive” a document he had ever seen.
The barrister said he could only imagine how worried the police were when they entered the teenager’s address. The court heard that because of the boy’s age he will not be put on the Sex Offenders Register in relation to the indecent images he had.
Mr Mooney said his client has now completed an education course and intends to further his education.
Sentencing the defendant, District Judge Peter King told him he didn’t need to re-iterate “how incredibly dangerous the posting of the video was. You could have had yourself on the end of a police taser, or worse”.
He said such incidents are always treated extremely seriously and the amount of resources involving the school and police to deal with it “far outweighs a sick joke”.
The judge said there had been references to “firearms and mass shootings”.
He said the indecent images were so concerning that if the youth had been an adult he would have been jailed. Under the terms of the Youth Conference Order the boy has to write a letter of apology to the school principal and be supervised by the Youth Justice Agency for a year to address offending issues.
That will include ‘therapeutic intervention for harmful sexual behaviour’; discussions about relationships, decision-making and peer pressure and a drugs assessment.
The youth also has to complete an education session with the PSNI Armed Response Unit and submit to a restriction from accessing the internet to be monitored by his mother and the Youth Justice Agency.