Police: 18-year-old threatened mass shooting at high school
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — An 18-year-old Vermont man accused of threatening to cause “mass casualties” at the high school he once attended in Fair Haven was ordered held without bail Friday after appearing in court in Rutland.
The case prompted a visibly shaken Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, to say he was open to discussions about possibly looking at “gun safety” laws as part of a broader package of efforts to prevent violence.
Vermont officials described the incident in Fair Haven, a town of just under 3,000 along the New York border not far from the southern end of Lake Champlain, as a near miss after discovering that Sawyer kept a diary entitled “Diary of an Active Shooter” and that he had recently purchased a shotgun and ammunition.
Sawyer, of Poultney, pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted aggravated murder and other offenses. If convicted he could get life in prison. His lawyer declined comment.
“In the aftermath of the situation in Florida, this situation in Fair Haven has jolted me, especially after reading the affidavit,” Scott said at a Friday afternoon news conference in Montpelier. “It was only by the grace of God and the courage of a young woman who spoke up that we averted a horrific outcome.”
Vermont officials said there was no indication when Sawyer might have carried out an attack on the Fair Haven High School and they said his threats were unrelated to Wednesday’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17.
Vermont has a long history of gun ownership and a relatively small number of gun crimes. Over the years efforts to restrict gun ownership in any way have failed in the Legislature.
As recently as Thursday, Scott said he felt current Vermont laws were adequate to prevent gun violence in the state’s schools. Scott said Friday he was re-thinking that position.
“While I fiercely and strongly support all constitutional rights, including the Second Amendment, the fact is these tragedies have become all too frequent,” he said.
Scott said the existing system worked to prevent a tragedy in Fair Haven, but the state must do more to assure everything possible is being done to protect school children.
“I have a responsibility for the safety of our citizens, especially our kids, which means having an honest and open and fact-based discussion about access to guns by those who shouldn’t have them,” Scott said.
He said he was committed to working with legislative leaders to make policy changes to protect children and all Vermonters.
“That includes better identifying and treating mental health needs and other root causes of violence, determining why so many children slip through the cracks and having an open conversation about gun safety,” he said.
State Police Major Glenn Hall, the head of the state police criminal division, said Sawyer first came to the attention of Fair Haven police Wednesday after they got a tip Sawyer was making threats.
Police learned Sawyer, who had recently left a mental health treatment facility in Maine, had purchased a 12-gauge shotgun and ammunition. Officers approached Sawyer, but could find no reason to take him into custody.
On Thursday, Vermont authorities received a report from the Duchess County Sheriff’s Office in New York that Sawyer had been making specific threats in an online conversation with a girl at a school in Poughkeepsie, New York. Sawyer was arrested Thursday afternoon.