(CBS News) — The thin line between planning a school massacre and attempting it has a teenage suspect on the verge of walking free in Vermont. Now, the community is on edge.
At Fair Haven Union High School, attendance has been down as much as 25 percent in the last two months.
“He threatened to kill a lot of people in our school,” said one student at the school.
to shoot up the school in a journal entitled “The journal of an active shooter.” It listed who he wanted to kill, like the school resource officer, saying, “I’m intending to just blow his (expletive) head off before he can even draw his gun or think about what’s happening.'”
The plot was foiled when Angela McDevitt, a 17-year-old acquaintance of Sawyer’s from upstate New York, was texting with him on the day of the Parkland, Florida, shooting. McDevitt thought a mutual friend of theirs might have been a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“I went to Jack, and I was like ,’Hey, this girl who we both know, school just got shot up,'” she said.
In response, she said he told her, “That’s fantastic. I 100 percent support it. What school was it?”
McDevitt told the police officer at her school, who quickly called the Vermont State Police. Prosecutors charged Sawyer with attempted murder and aggravated assault. But they weren’t expecting a 112-year-old law to get in the way.
In Vermont, “planning” isn’t “attempting.” So last week, hard as it may be to believe, prosecutors were forced to drop the felony charges against Sawyer, after the Supreme Court ruled there was “no attempt,” since the act had not been committed.
“When you look at it, telling the detectives you’re just delaying by law enforcement interactions,” said Bill Humphries, the Fair Haven police chief. “I understand their ruling, I don’t agree with it, but I mean those are the kind of laws we have to live with right now.”
If Sawyer can make the reduced bail, he must seek mental health help, but he will get out of jail. That leaves principal Jason Rasco dealing with panicked students and anxious faculty.
No school in America lives without fear these days, but the threat at Fair Haven Union High seems a little more real.
“We have a new normal now because of things that we didn’t do,” said Rasco. “We’re the victims and that doesn’t feel right. It isn’t right.”
Vermont hasin the wake of all this, meaning Sawyer can no longer buy guns, and legislators say they will move to close other loopholes. If this happened just a mile away, over the New York state border, it would be a different story: he would be facing felony charges.
— Jim Axelrod
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