Teen pleads guilty to ‘stupid joke,’ Trinity Catholic High School bomb threat
Officers with the Ocala Police Department respond as students are evacuated outside by the football field during a bomb threat at Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, Fla. on Friday, August 25, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.
A 14-year-old boy accused of initiating a bomb threat on Aug. 25 against his high school, Trinity Catholic, on Thursday pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy charges under a plea agreement, calling his actions “a stupid joke.’’
The boy had already been expelled from Trinity High School following the incident.
Circuit Court Judge Brad King initially hesitated to go along with the plea deal.
“I’m not inclined to accept this plea,’’ he said. “These cases concern me. When threats like these are made against schools, law enforcement must respond, and the school emptied.”
Although no bomb was found, King pointed out that the disruption and scare cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
King asked the state attorney, Brenda Dozier, and the boy’s mother, who was with her son in court, if the teen had been in any serious trouble before. Both answered, no.
Although the teen initiated the bomb scare, he gave information to an online friend in Germany who actually called in the threat.
King asked the boy, “Why in the world would you do this?”
The boy answered, “It was a stupid joke. I see that now. I didn’t believe he [the contact in Germany] would actually make the threat.”
King, the retired longtime 5th Circuit state attorney who served as a reserve officer with the Ocala Police Department before being appointed this year to fill a vacancy on the bench, recalled responding to calls himself at Trinty Catholic High School and the disruption they can make.
“But I can see both sides of this. Stupid kid pranks,” he said.
“In these times, I tend to speak my mind even though I probably shouldn’t,” King said, addressing the boy’s mother, who stood with her son and the boy’s attorney, David Mengers. “I think I can trust you as a parent. You have to know that.”
King asked the mother to monitor her son’s internet usage.
Then, addressing the teen, King warned that some things in life are hard to overcome. If the boy didn’t work hard to set his path straight, King said, his actions would impact his ability to get into college or any other school, and he’d have a hard time in life.
The teen’s probation includes writing apology letters to the high school and to his parents; 100 hours of community service; a curfew from 6 p.m to 6 a.m.; no contact with the person who ultimately communicated the bomb threat; the payment of court costs; and substance abuse and mental health evaluations.
King also issued the teen a stern warning. “If you violate probation and return to court, I will not be as kind,” he said.
King ordered the boy to return to school, “when you can find a school that will accept you.” He also ordered the boy to write a 500-word essay about what the consequences would have been had the boy been tried as an adult.
King also ordered anger management and impulse control counseling for the teen in order to help him weigh his decisions going forward to avoid making any more “colossally stupid” choices like this one.
“You are on thin ice, don’t test me,’’ King admonished the teen. “Just like I told my five kids, you won’t like the end result.”
The “Ocala Gazette” has criticized the practice of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and OPD of posting on their social media platforms photos and names of minors who have been arrested but not charged or convicted of crimes because of the long-term negative impacts this exposure can have on efforts to rehabilitate young offenders. In this case, however, OPD did post about the incident but did not include the boy’s photo or use his name.
OPD’s post gave this narrative of events:
On Aug. 25, Det. Boyer responded to a bomb threat at Trinity Catholic High School. Upon arrival, the detective was informed that an unknown male caller left a voicemail that a bomb was in a specific room that would explode. As police listened to the message, the school resource officer, OPD Officer Barry, noticed that the caller knew unique details of the school, leading officers to believe that someone who attended the school may have been responsible for the threat. The phone number was traced back to Germany.
Detective Boyer contacted the FBI for support in this case. The FBI was able to identify the woman in Germany who owned the phone number, contacted her, and learned she had a teenage son. The mother and son were summoned by German authorities on Sept. 22, and during the interrogation, the son admitted to having made the false bomb threat call. The teen said that he was instigated to do so by a high school student who attended the school, and he only knew the nickname of the student.
With just a nickname, SRO Barry was able to identify and locate the suspect student. Det. Boyer visited the school to interview the student, who acknowledged having an online friend from Germany and that they use an instant messaging app to communicate.
Det. Boyer viewed messages between the student and his German friend from the day of the bomb threat. The messages contained evidence of the student’s involvement, which he tried to hide. Det. Boyer then secured the student’s phone for evidence.
Det. Boyer also called the student’s friend in Germany, who described the entire incident and confirmed that he made the bomb threat to the high school. The overseas friend told Det. Boyer that the student said he did not feel like going to school that day and told him to call the school and make a bomb threat.
Based on the teen in Germany admitting to police that he made the phone call after being instigated to do so by the suspect, together with the suspect having text message evidence concerning the incident, Det. Boyer believed this bomb threat would not have occurred without the involvement of the suspect. Det. Boyer arrested the student for criminal solicitation of a threat to discharge a destructive device.
We want to remind students and parents that we take threats to our schools very seriously and we will not hesitate to take action against those who seek to cause harm or create panic in our community. Threats like this, even as a joke, are never acceptable. We encourage parents to have conversations with their children about the importance of safety in our schools and to report any concerns or suspicious activity to law enforcement immediately.