School officer disputes bullying before Paw Paw HS threat

Southwest Michigan

PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — The question of whether a 15-year-old who allegedly planned to attack his school should be tried as an adult was the focus of a Wednesday hearing.

The prosecutor attempted to show how serious the Paw Paw High School student’s plans were while the defense tried to make a case that the teen needs help, not punishment.

The student, who 24 Hour News 8 is not identifying because he is a minor, faces eight criminal charges in connection to the incident that forced classes to be canceled on March 19. The day before the cancellation, the teen’s parents said he approached them and confessed to stealing guns from his grandfather, cutting them down to fit into a bag and planning to kill fellow students. After their son came to them, the parents to him to the sheriff’s department.

The school’s liaison officer, Deputy Trever Tate, testified Wednesday that he interviewed over 50 students and “not one” said the suspect was bullied. The teen’s parents previously told 24 Hour News 8 bullying was the root of the incident.

Later, the suspect’s attorney pressed Tate on the point, saying that students had circulated a photo of the suspect in his underwear. When asked if that was bullying, Tate responded, “No necessarily, no.”

The exchange between Tate and the defense attorney became contentious, with Tate pushing back hard on the notion that the suspect was bullied.

“You can’t get along with everybody in our society, so because someone says those (exclusionary) things does not necessarily mean that’s mean behavior,” he said.

Tate had previously posted on his Twitter account that he had not yet found a link to bullying while investigating the incident.

The officer also said the teen had a “bomb book” with handwritten notes about making a bomb, which appeared to be copied from “Anarchist Cookbook.” The book was discovered in February, about a month before the incident that lead to his arrest.

“This didn’t seem like something a normal teenager writes down in a book,” Tate said.

“We went through about a 30-question assessment to see at that time if we felt there was any risk factors where we could recommend help or something different,” he continued. “There was certainly a concern at that time.”

However, Tate testified, school leaders determined he was not a threat and the case was never forwarded to prosecutors for potential charges.

“There was no school discipline,” Tate added. “I did a short police report just to document what had happened.”

Tate testified that the teen authored a “hit list” with 27 names of people he wanted to die and reasons why. Tate said the list was discovered after he was brought to the sheriff’s department in March. The list included students and staff at Paw Paw High School, President Donald Trump and comedian Amy Schumer.

Prosecutors presented several pages of a journal that was allegedly authored by the teen suspect. The journal featured sketches depicting violence and suicide.

“Most of my problems are caused by the people that inhabit the state,” a journal entry read. “Why just die when the society that made you die remains whole?“

“I hate everything and everything hates me,” another entry read. “I’ll destroy everything that doesn’t deserve life. … I’m the god and the devil at the same time.”

The journal also included an entry about the teen’s attempt to drown a cat. He eventually strangled the animal.

“I saw the life just leave its body,” the journal read in part. “I only want to do it again.”

The journal concluded with an entry detailing a plan to kill people at Paw Paw High School on March 19. It included a list of things to do on the day the shooting was to take place: “Take the car keys,” “make phones die,” “write suicide note,” were among the items on the list.

Van Buren County Detective Sharon VanDam testified that the teen and his parents came to the sheriff’s office, the teen told investigators he planned to “kill himself … and to shoot people that deserved it.”

She said she had no doubt about what would have happened if he had not come to authorities.

Because testimony stretched past 5 p.m., the hearing was adjourned and will resume May 2.

—24 Hour News 8’s Leon Hendrix and Lynsey Mukomel contributed to this report.

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