ST. GEORGE — The teen who allegedly brought a homemade bomb to Pine View High School earlier this year was bullied so harshly it caused him to withdraw from all classes at Hurricane High School, according to testimony by the teen’s parents in court Thursday.
The 16-year-old from Hurricane was “relentlessly” bullied and teased, starting when he was playing baseball and football in elementary and middle school, the teen’s father said in court. He was also physically and verbally bullied while attending school, where one classmate even told him “it was too bad he hadn’t died over the weekend,” the teen’s father said.
Thursday’s testimony by the teen’s parents and a mental health counselor were part of a series of hearings at the 5th District Courthouse in St. George to determine whether or not the teen will be tried as an adult. The teen’s defense attorney Stephen Harris ran most of the questioning at the hearing.
The teen, who was charged with felonies for attempted murder and possessing a weapon of mass destruction, allegedly brought a homemade explosive device to Pine View High School on March 5. The bomb never detonated and no one was injured, but it caused a full evacuation of the school.
The teen also faces a misdemeanor charge for allegedly spray painting “ISIS is comi” and raising an Islamic State flag at Hurricane High School on Feb. 15.
Because the suspect is a juvenile, St. George News has chosen not to name the teen or his parents to protect his identity.
When the bullying became too much
The teen was always bullied and teased throughout his time attending school and playing sports, his parents said in the hearing Thursday. Many times, the teen would react to his classmates bullying him by fighting back, which would get him in trouble. For example, one time he was suspended for using scissors to cut the shorts of a classmate who supposedly punched him, the teen’s mother said.
The bullying became much more intense when the teen started attending Hurricane High School. It became too much for the teen to handle after an incident in a woodworking class at Hurricane High School in November 2017, three months before he allegedly returned to the school to vandalize it with ISIS imagery.
The incident in shop class started when the teen was attempting to give advice to another classmate about a woodworking project, when other students in the class started teasing the classmate for listening to the teen. It quickly escalated to pushing, and nearly everyone in the class started laughing at the teen, including one of his own cousins who was in the class, his mother said.
“That hurt,” she said.
Afterward, the teen “finally broke down and cried and said, ‘You just don’t understand, Mom, how bad it is,'” she testified.
The teen decided he was finally done with Hurricane High School after the incident in woodworking class and withdrew from the school.
“When we decided to pull him out, we went and talked with the woodworking teacher because (the teen) needed to go and get his things from the class. The teacher was concerned, but he told (the teen) if he felt like everyone was bullying him, maybe he should look at himself and see why.”
The teen’s mother said although her son is socially awkward, she never felt like the bullying against him was his fault, like the woodworking teacher had implied.
The teen also attended classes at Success Academy at Dixie State University, as well as seminary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and ROTC at Pine View High School. The bullying wasn’t as bad at Pine View High School or the Success Academy, so he continued attending classes there after November.
A few months later is when the teen allegedly placed the bomb in the cafeteria of Pine View High School because he wanted to “cause fear in the kids and their parents,” said the teen in a hearing last month.
Frustrations from life, autism
While the teen worked hard in school, he also struggled to keep up with his peers in academics and didn’t have any close friends outside of his family. However, his did have his strengths, including woodworking and as a Boy Scout – he received his Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in Boy Scouts of America, at the age of 13, his mother said.
“He gets frustrated with things but doesn’t get aggressive,” she testified.
One of the biggest thing the teen would get frustrated about was when his peers wouldn’t follow set rules. The teen loves rules, sticks to the rules and likes it when others around him follow the rules, his mother said.
Following rules and not knowing why others may not follow the rules is one of the indications of autism, which the teen has been diagnosed with, mental health counselor Shara Mitchell Ogilvie testified.
“It’s incredibly stressful for (people with autism) when they see people not following the rules and sometimes they don’t know what to do with that,” she said. “This can cause intense anxiety.”
When asked by Judge Paul E. Dame if she believes the teen’s low-level autism diagnosis could be directly related to allegedly bringing a bomb to Pine View High School, Ogilvie said she had no doubt in her mind that there was a direct correlation.
Even though the actions that the teen allegedly carried out were extreme, the teen can “absolutely” still be teachable and can learn to correct inappropriate behaviors and mindsets, she said. Part of the reason the teen can improve through counseling is because he has not been diagnosed as a psychopath.
The hearing to determine whether or not the teen will be tried as an adult will resume Friday.
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