ST. GEORGE — In the last witness testimony in a hearing for the teen accused of bringing a homemade bomb to Pine View High School earlier this year, a behavior analyst spoke about how the teen enjoyed the attention after committing his crimes.
Lilian Adolphson, vice president of Utah Behavior Services, testified at a preliminary hearing in 5th District Juvenile Court to determine whether to charge the boy as an adult. Utah Behavior Services was the organization that helped analyze the teen to determine whether he was autistic, and Adolphson reviewed the interrogation video of the teen to make judgments on his behavior.
The 16-year-old from Hurricane is 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. The bomb never detonated and no one was injured, but it caused a full evacuation of the school.
The boy 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.
Enjoying the attention
After both crimes, Adolphson said the teen was looking for a public response and enjoyed the attention he was getting, both directly and indirectly.
“In the interrogation video, when investigators were asking him about whether or not he also committed the act of vandalism at (Hurricane High School), he responded by saying ‘yeah, that was me.’ He became very eager to talk about it and he became more animated. It appeared he really enjoyed the attention.”
After raising the ISIS flag and vandalizing Hurricane High School, the teen created an account on Facebook to read comments people made online about it, which is another indication he relished the attention for it, even if it was indirect attention, Adolphson said.
“He didn’t get credit, but he got to watch the reaction from the community as a direct consequence of his actions.”
Later, the boy also enjoyed speaking about bringing the bomb to Pine View High School to investigators because of the attention they were giving to him by talking about it, Adolphson said. He also displayed a lack of remorse, saying he wouldn’t have cared if people got hurt from his bomb.
Autistic or psychopathic?
The teen didn’t display any remorse or empathy until after he saw his mother crying during one of the preliminary hearings, Adolphson said. People with autism often have a harder time understanding the pain they can cause others until there is a reaction like crying from someone, said.
Showing empathy by also crying and apologizing after seeing his mother in tears shows that the teen is not as likely to have personality disorders like psychopathy.
“An individual with psychopathic tenancies would not then show empathy and make comments like ‘I’m sorry,’ which he told his mother in response to her suffering,” Adolphson said. “(His actions) were more consistent with autism.”
At the previous hearing, Gregory Saathoff, chief psychiatric consultant for the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Units and Crisis Negotiation Unit, said he doubted the teen’s autism diagnosis because of insufficient testing and instead concluded the boy’s behavior was much more similar to that of psychopaths, terrorists and mass shooters.
Autism does not cause people to premeditate violent attacks on innocent people, he said at the previous hearing.
Saathoff’s conclusion was different than the conclusion of Adolphson, who said the teen’s actions could have been because of his autism.
“An adolescent who has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism is maybe more likely to engage in criminal activity because of the lack of understanding they have for consequences,” Saathoff said.
Whether or not the teen displayed psychopathic tendencies may be a moot point with the court. Personality disorders like psychopathy cannot be officially diagnosed until after someone is 18.
The next step
Adolphson provided the last testimony before the defense and prosecution make their final arguments on Monday and the judge decides whether or not the suspect will be tried as an adult. If he is tried as an adult, his name will be released, he could face stiffer penalties and he’d be incarcerated in an adult prison.
Placing the suspect in an adult prison will not be beneficial for anyone, Adolphson said.
“(The teen) is a vulnerable individual. His safety would be at risk in the adult correctional system. I feel like he’d be more prone for victimization and possibly modeling behaviors of more sophisticated criminals.”
She also said there are more resources available for treatment within the juvenile court system than the adult system, but because she wasn’t recognized as an expert in treatment options for juveniles versus adults, Judge Paul E. Dame only accepted her expertise as a behavior analyst on record.
Regardless of the outcome, there is still time to effectively treat the teen and reverse inappropriate thought processes, Adolphson said.
“At whatever point he’s reintegrated into the community, I think everyone’s goal is the same – to have him be safe and productive.”
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