Court shown video of alleged school shooting plotter’s interrogation
A former student who police say was planning to shoot up his past high school in Fair Haven watched a recording of himself Tuesday talk to a detective about the alleged plot.
Jack Sawyer, 18, sat quietly between his two attorneys in Rutland County superior criminal court as prosecutors played clips from his interrogation earlier this month at the Vermont State Police barracks in Rutland.
The clips include Sawyer talking to the police detective of his fascination with the two killers from Columbine High School, his own interest in firearms, and plans he had for a school shooting at Fair Haven Union School.
Sawyer told the detective that he wouldn’t be wearing a trenchcoat like the killers at Columbine. Instead, he said, he would be dressed in “camo.”
In another clip, he told state police Detective Sgt. Henry Alberico matter-of-factly that he had recently purchased a 12-gauge shotgun, and was hoping to buy an AR-15 rifle and a 9mm handgun.
“I really like it,” he told the detective of the AR-15 rifle. Sawyer never did buy that AR-15 rifle or a 9mm handgun.
However, prosecutors say they have plenty of other evidence to show he was intent on carrying out his school attack before it was foiled by a friend who reported to authorities a conversation she had over Facebook with him regarding the alleged plot.
The prosecution presented some of that evidence Tuesday during a hearing to determine if Sawyer should continue to be held without bail. He faces four felony charges, including counts of attempted aggravated murder and attempted first-degree murder.
The hearing came to a close late Tuesday afternoon with Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy saying she had more of her case to present, prompting the judge to continue the matter until later this week, likely Friday.
In the meantime, Sawyer, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, remains held without bail at the Rutland jail.
Kelly Green, a public defender representing Sawyer, reiterated after the hearing Tuesday comments made by the head of her office, state Defender General Matthew Valerio, a day earlier to VTDigger that prosecutors had “overcharged” the case.
“I’m not going to answer any questions, but I’ll tell you what I’m waiting for,” Green told reporters. “I’m waiting to hear evidence of an attempted homicide here.”
She added, “The law is crystal clear. Merely preparing for a crime, intending a crime, is not an attempt.”
However, Kennedy, whose office is prosecuting the case, pressed forward in court. “The folks who know Jack, believed these threats,” Kennedy told the judge, “and I think that’s important for the court to consider.”
The Sawyer case, coming on the heels of the school shooting earlier this month in Florida, has resonated far outside of Rutland County. Gun legislation has since become a top priority for many of the leaders at the Statehouse in Montpelier.
Gov. Phil Scott has said the allegations outlined in a police affidavit against Sawyer “jolted,” him, prompting a shift in his own stance on gun legislation. The governor has said everything is now “on the table.”
But in Rutland, the matter that remains to be decided is whether Sawyer should kept in jail without bail pending his trial.
In court Tuesday, Kennedy called Cpl. Scott Alkinburgh, the school resource officer at Fair Haven Union High School, to the stand.
According to court records, prosecutors say Sawyer had planned to kill as many students as could in a mass shooting, and the only name specifically listed as a target in the attempted murder charges against Sawyer is Alkinburgh.
According to filings in the case, Sawyer wrote in a notebook, titled “Journal of a Active Shooter,” that he intended to kill the school resource officer first “before he can kill me or stop me.”
“Do you believe that the defendant is capable of pulling or carrying out the threats and this mass shooting,” Kennedy asked Alkinburgh.
“Yes,” the school resource officer replied.
“Are you personally scared?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” Alkinburgh responded.
“You say you believe he is capable, what is that based on?” Kennedy asked the officer.
“Based on the totality of the situation, based on his history, based on everything I’ve been able to find out in the investigation,” Alkinburgh said. “Again, based on that. That’s why I think he’s capable.”
The prosecutor also talked with Alkinburgh about a page from Sawyer’s journal that was titled: “Top of the should have died list.”
Kennedy asked if all the names on the list are current students.
“Yes, they are,” the officer responded.
Green, the defense attorney, questioned Alkinburgh if he knew of any instance when Sawyer brought a gun, or any weapon, to school when he was a still a student there.
“Not to my knowledge,” the officer said.
Sawyer left the school in Fair Haven in 2016.
Jason Rasco, acting principal at the Fair Haven high school, had testified earlier Tuesday of a threat assessment that was underway in 2016 of Sawyer when concerns were raised about his behavior, including what appeared to be a strong interest in the 1999 school shooting at Columbine.
Before that assessment was complete, Sawyer left the school. Until earlier this month, Sawyer had been in Maine where he attended Ironwood, a residential treatment school.
“You haven’t seen him on campus,” Green asked Alkinburgh, the school resource officer, referring to the grounds of Fair Haven Union High School.
“I haven’t seen him on campus,” the officer told her.
“You haven’t seen his car parked there?” Green asked.
“Not to my knowledge,” Alkinburgh replied.
“Did he ever physically hurt another student while he was student?” Green questioned.
“Not to my knowledge,” the officer said.
Kennedy later sought to show Tuesday through testimony that once Sawyer set his mind on something, he carries through. She pointed to the time after Sawyer left the Fair Haven school, and took off to California without telling his parents.
She asked Alberico, the state police detective who questioned Sawyer at the barracks earlier this month, about that trip.
The detective said Sawyer told him his mother did reach him by phone when he was Oklahoma.
Sawyer said his mother told him to come back to Vermont and they would try to work something out where he wouldn’t have to go back to school again in Fair Haven, according to Alberico.
“Jack had said that he was determined to go to California, he made a plan and he was going to fulfill that plan,” Alberico said. “So even though he was in Oklahoma he continued to California, stayed for two hours, and drove four days back to Vermont, just to fulfill his plan of reaching California.”
“You understood that he actually took no toll roads, that was one of his goals, is not to pay any tolls,” Kennedy said to Alberico. “And he told you he succeeded in that?”
“He did,” the detective responded.
“So when he’s telling you about this California trip he’s using it to explain just how adamant he is that he’s going to pull off this massacre, correct?” Kennedy asked.
“Correct,” the detective replied.
Later in the interview, Alberico said, Sawyer told him that he had a plan in mind regarding the school shooting.
“He’s patient, and he would wait even if it took 10 years,” Alberico said Sawyer told him.
In another video clip of the interrogation played in the court, Sawyer told the detective, “I don’t like to make big deals of things.”
“It would be a big deal if you followed though,” Alberico said to him.