FBI psychiatrist casts doubt on autism diagnosis of teen in Pine View bomb case

Gregory Saathoff, chief psychiatric consultant for the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Units and Crisis Negotiation Unit, testifies during a hearing for the teen who brought a bomb to Pine View High School earlier this year, St. George, Utah, July 6, 2018 | Photo by Ben Pollchik via Utah court pool, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A psychiatrist from Virginia with experience assessing terrorists and a notorious school shooter testified in a hearing Friday for the teen who allegedly brought a bomb to Pine View High School earlier this year.

Pine View High School students are evacuated to the football field as police investigate a bomb scare inside the school and swept the parking lot as a precaution, St. George, Utah, March 5, 2018 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Gregory Saathoff, chief psychiatric consultant for the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Units and Crisis Negotiation Unit, testified for over four hours at the 5th District Courthouse in St. George for the hearing, which will eventually determine if the teen will be tried as an adult.

Saatoff’s experience includes working on the case for the Sandy Hook massacre, where 20 children and six adults were shot dead in a Connecticut elementary school in 2012.

The 16-year-old teen from Hurricane in this case was charged with felonies for attempted murder and possessing a weapon of mass destruction for bringing an explosive in a backpack to Pine View High School on March 5. No one was killed or injured, but the teen demonstrated behavior that is similar to other terrorists or mass shooters, Saathoff said.

Read more: Charges filed in Pine View bomb scare; more possible in relation to ISIS flag incident

Having watched many other interviews between people who commit atrocious crimes like acts of terrorism or mass shootings, Saathoff said the teen’s interview in the Pine View case was “quite unremarkable” compared to others.

5th District Juvenile Court Judge Paul E. Dame listens to testimony during a preliminary hearing for a teen accused of attempting to detonate a bomb inside Pine View High School, St. George, Utah, July 6, 2018 | Photo by Ben Pollchik via Utah court pool, St. George News

The tape of the teen in the interrogation room after being arrested at Pine View High School shows him looking around at the ceiling, talking to himself and displaying nervous quirks when investigators were out of the room.

“It was quite typical of someone in that situation,” Saathoff testified.

The teen’s defense team has used witnesses to argue that bullying and autism may have led to him bringing the bomb to the school, but Saathoff said autism does not cause people to premeditate attacks like the teen in this case did.

Read more: Defense’s witness says autism, bullying played part in bomb scare case

“The behavior that is most often demonstrated by people with autism is more in line with tantrums and reactive types of aggression. That’s not what I’ve seen in (the teen’s) case.”

Because the teen spent months researching the Islamic State and how to build a bomb, his attempted attack on Pine View High School was premeditated far in advance – something autism does not cause people to do, Saathoff said.

While the teen’s parents testified the day before about extensive bullying when the teen attended Hurricane High School, the teen brought the bomb to Pine View High School, where there were no reports of bullying. This proves the teen’s act of bringing the bomb to school was not reactive to something happening here, Saathoff said.

Read more: Pine View High School bomb suspect was ‘relentlessly’ bullied, parents say

Deputy Washington County Attorney Angela Adams asks questions during a preliminary hearing for a teen accused of attempting to detonate a bomb inside Pine View High School, St. George, Utah, July 6, 2018 | Photo by Ben Pollchik via Utah court pool, St. George News

The teen’s lack of remorse is another indication that autism did not cause him to drop the bomb off at the school. Using an example, Saathoff said a person with autism may step on one’s foot and not realize the pain they caused that person, but after that person cries out in pain, the person with autism will quickly feel remorse.

The teen’s “prowess in academics,” as demonstrated by his 3.89 grade point average in his last full year of school in ninth grade, is also in direct conflict with the defense characterizing the teen as having a challenged intellect, Saathoff said. It also was very sophisticated to be able to live a double life as the teen was planning the attack.

“He said a prayer with his family before going to the school with the extra backpack with the explosive in it. He also called his mom when the school was being evacuated and told her he didn’t know why there was an evacuation.”

The teen was also only diagnosed with autism after being arrested, which raises some questions about whether or not the diagnosis of autism is sufficient.

Defense attorney Stephen Harris listens to testimony during a preliminary hearing for a teen accused of attempting to detonate a bomb inside Pine View High School, St. George, Utah, July 6, 2018 | Photo by Ben Pollchik via Utah court pool, St. George News

“Although he has been in a number of schools and by all accounts, he has been very attentive, he has caring parents and family, and was doing well academically,” Saathoff testified. “No one has raised (autism) as an issue up to this point.”

Saathoff said he’d like to see additional testing done to determine whether or not the teen is truly autistic.

After Saathoff completed his testimony, the teen’s defense attorneys Matthew and Stephen Harris objected to 5th District Judge Paul E. Dame accepting Saathoff’s testimony. They argued that Saathoff’s opinion that the teen’s diagnosis of autism was inadequate could not be reliable because although Saathoff is an expert on all kinds of psychological disorders including autism, he is not an expert on juvenile autism.

Despite the objection, Dame decided to accept Saathoff’s testimony but said he is yet to determine how much weight to give it.

The hearing to determine whether or not the teen will be tried as an adult will resume July 13.

Email: sricks@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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14 Comments

  • IPFreely July 6, 2018 at 8:03 pm

    Yup…

  • comments July 7, 2018 at 12:14 am

    If all else fails tell them you’re an autist who was bullied in school. hahahah 😉

    If it’s a psycho it needs to be locked away for good. Put in all that effort and couldn’t even build a good bomb. What a complete moron. Dump, where you at? <3

    • Sheri July 7, 2018 at 7:51 am

      Again, it’s not autist.. moron

      • John July 7, 2018 at 9:21 am

        “Comments” has to prove his ignorance daily.. it’s a curse from not tithing..He’s upset that the LDS church wouldn’t let him be an apostle.. he has become a very bitter jerk

      • comments July 7, 2018 at 1:21 pm

        You know, I get that the term ‘autist’ is rather informal, but is it offensive or bad? I don’t get it.

        • comments July 7, 2018 at 4:14 pm

          Really I am just a girl trapped in an old mans body. I come on here and make fun of people cuz I have nothing better to do

          • ladybugavenger July 8, 2018 at 4:55 pm

            Hi dumpster

    • comments July 7, 2018 at 4:47 pm

      I meant artist. Sorry my bad. I am so stupid

  • Nobody July 7, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    It does seem like “Autism” is the new excuse for justifying all sorts of heinous crimes. Generally Autistic people do not do this kind of thing. The problem in my “unprofessional opinion” is: A lot of Autistic people tend to have a selfish disposition, which is not their fault, it comes with the condition. The real problem comes into play, when parents, baby the snot out out of their Autistic child, virtually trying to shield them from everything that relates to real life, so later they see the world though pink goggles. Then, when they are faced with some actual problems, it becomes a life crushing event for them and they act out in all kinds of crazy ways, even though they might know it is wrong. I think autistic kids should be taught to integrate and cope with life like normal people, just maybe with a little more time to calm down and take in what has been taught. Sheltering kids is not good, special needs or not, but for Autistics it’s even worse, once habits are learned, they are there for life. Autistics are extremely routine driven, based on what they have learned early on. So it’s essential to instill good life skills early. However… to say they can not learn is complete bull, it just becomes harder because they are stubborn and in a comfort zone of their early learned habits. It is proven, that Autistic people have an IQ well above the average person, it’s just that their skills are very limited to their field of interest. This is why many genius people, of the past had Autism or Aspergers, ” Albert Einstein” for example. In case someone thinks I dont know what I’m talking about, I do. I have Aspergers and was raised normally. I live a normal productive life like anybody else. Rant over….

    • comments July 7, 2018 at 4:15 pm

      I’m what some consider a libtard. Should I get away with everything I want? I wish I could because I am a special little snowflake

      • IPFreely July 7, 2018 at 7:06 pm

        Holy crap comments keep it together

  • ladybugavenger July 8, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    Hey b&f when you have 2 experts that are saying opposite things, which expert do you believe?

    P,S, in this case I believe autism has nothing to do with this kid making a bomb.

    B&F sure wish you are on this jury so you can hear the case. Although, most cases have evidence suppressed. I would like to hear what you would write about this trial.

    • bikeandfish July 8, 2018 at 5:16 pm

      Tough case without an easy, clear answer. Especially as more details come out about how long the plan was premeditated.

      Having worked with students on the spectrum I can’t agree with the FBI psychiatrist about his concept of remorse. I’ve seen plenty of times when no remorse is ever expressed.

      I will say his diagnosis of autism after the case and such a condition never being raised before the attempted bombing is pretty damning for the defense. I don’t see how they get past that important fact. Going from no issues and behavioral problems to premeditated bombing is a huge jump. Most teenagers I have worked with have exhibited years of problems before a major outburst like this. I’m guessing he’ll be tried as a competent adult given these details. But I also bet it will be tied up in appeals for years given the same details and how much “grey” that can be interpreted.

      No matter the case, I’m just glad the bomb failed.

  • John July 9, 2018 at 1:09 pm

    Paid witnesses testifying for the defense carry so much weight, hahahahahaha!.. they will say anything for a buck..

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