The juvenile accused of bringing a homemade explosive device to one Southern Utah high school and vandalizing another earlier this year appeared in court for his preliminary hearing Monday morning.
Deputy County Attorney Angela Adams, one of two main prosecutors in the case, said the preliminary hearing will be key in this juvenile's case as to whether or not he will be tried as an adult in 5th District Court.
It is the state's burden, Adams said, to establish probable cause that the teenager was involved in the separate incidents at Pine View and Hurricane High School. If the requirements for probable cause are met, the court will determine if the 16-year-old boy will be tried as an adult. He's charged with two first-degree felonies and one misdemeanor count in relation to the two incidents.
The state called nine witnesses on Monday, and juvenile court Judge Paul E. Dame invoked the exclusionary rule - that witnesses are barred from speaking with other witnesses in the case regarding their testimonies - at the request of the teen's defense attorneys Steven and Matthew Harris.
The testimonies were related to evidence collected at both of the high schools and at the boy's residence in Hurricane City. In addition, the state showed the court a video recording of the teenager's interview with St. George Police detective Brandon Dunbar at the time he was arrested.
During the interview, the juvenile admitted to officers he alone was responsible for the suspected bomb or improvised incendiary device (IID) located at Pine View High School on March 5 as well as replacing the American flag with an ISIS flag at Hurricane High School and "tagging" one of its walls with pro-ISIS graffiti on Feb. 15.
According to police testimony and various authorities who testified to responding to an incident at PVHS on March 5, a suspected bomb or IID was located in the cafeteria during the lunch hour.
Dunbar testified that he responded to PVHS after he was informed an improvised bomb was located, and he was directed by the school's principal to a student who was identified as a potential suspect.
According to his testimony, Dunbar and another police officer located the student on the football field after an evacuation had taken place. He testified that he asked him a few questions at the scene and later detained him and questioned him at the police department.
The video, which is around four hours in length, starts with the detectives placing the boy in an interview room. He sits in the room for a period of time, briefly talking to himself or whistling while he waits to be questioned.
"Walk me through the day," Dunbar asked the juvenile.
In the video, the teenager describes how one of his family members drove him to and from his scheduled classes at the Success Academy and PVHS. He explained that he arrived at the school, went to the library for around 20 minutes and went to the cafeteria when the lunch bell rang.
The boy initially told police he only arrived to the school with one backpack; however, one of the detectives questioning him told him he was seen on surveillance cameras with two backpacks.
He admitted he did in fact bring two backpacks with him to school that day, and he set one of them down in the cafeteria when he was speaking with a friend, according to the video. His friend then mentioned he saw the backpack was smoking.
"I don't know what the crap happened," the juvenile said in the video, adding that he only knew his Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps uniform was inside.
The officers told the juvenile what police had located in the backpack: matches, a can, canning lids, pellets of some sort, bottles of what they believed to be gasoline, and other items.
"You struck the match, didn't you?" Dunbar asked in the taped interview.
"Yes," the juvenile replied.
The boy went on to explain his intent was "to cause some fear" in people, and he had been planning to bring the backpack to school for several weeks after he did some online research.
During the interview, the juvenile said "it was pretty cool" to see the bomb squad arrive at PVHS and the evacuation occur after he lit the device inside his backpack.
"I've been looking at ISIS stuff, so I wanted to see what would happen and what people would think," the juvenile told the officers.
When detectives asked the boy what he would have thought if other students would have gotten hurt or injured due to his backpack, he replied "I wouldn't really care."
"I don't see death as anything bad, I see it as a new way of life," he said during the interview. "I expected the thing to go off."
Following his confession in the interview room, the detectives informed the boy they would likely search his home, and they asked him if there was anything else they should know about like additional bombs or perhaps a trip wire inside of his room that would set something else off.
"That would have been a smart idea," the juvenile replied in the video.
The officers asked the juvenile if he was involved in the vandalism incident at HHS, and he admitted that he rode his bike to the school in the early hours of the morning to spread the ISIS propaganda that was noticed by community members hours later.
Following the video that was played in the courtroom, Adams said the significance of the confession video is that at a point the juvenile took responsibility for both incidents at HHS and PVHS.
Adams said the boy "got to a point where he was very interested in opening up" and talking about his plan to execute the incidents during that interview.
One witness - Michael Koester, the PVHS school resource officer - described in detail how he was alerted to the backpack that was located at the school, what he found in the backpack, and how he removed the apparent threat from the school.
When looking at the backpack, Koester testified that it was open, and he could smell something had been burned.
"It was suspicious and shouldn't have been left in the cafeteria," Koester said. "I knew we had some sort of improvised device that was designed to go off."
Koester testified that he called SGPD Officer Gage Schimbeck, the Pine View Middle School resource officer and member of the Washington County Bomb Squad, to the scene.
Deputy County Attorney Eric Gentry questioned Schimbeck regarding what he observed inside the backpack. Schimbeck said the device was x-rayed so authorities could decipher the contents without actually handling it.
Several photos of the backpack and its contents were admitted into evidence. Schimbeck testified he located several items including a powder of some sort, BB's or pellets, a container, three small water bottles containing an amber liquid, tape, canning lids and an improvised fuse.
Schimbeck testified it appeared the device was an IID (a device meant to start a fire) rather than an explosive device or a bomb. He also said the tape attached to the can looked as if it was meant for containment, but it was not efficient.
"But it could have been," Schimbeck said.
In regard to the incident at HHS, the first witness called to testify was Leon Gubler, a janitor at the high school.
According to Gubler's testimony, he arrived to the school around 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 15. As he pulled into the parking lot, he noticed one of the walls on the vocational building had been vandalized with graffiti.
"The school has been tagged several times over the years," Gubler said.
He said he took a photo of the graffiti, which read "ISIS is comi - " and sent it to additional school authorities. The photo he took was admitted into evidence.
Shortly afterward, Gubler testified students notified him that the American flag on the school's flag pole was replaced with a black spray-painted flag that appeared to depict the ISIS flag.
"The American flag was damaged and torn," Gubler testified.
Gubler said he took the flags inside the school, and he described the process of removing the graffiti from the exterior wall, saying "it took some time" to remove it.
Hurricane Police Department officer Craig Stowe, who serves as the high school's resource officer, also testified regarding the vandalism incident.
He said he was informed by Gubler of the vandalism while he was on his way to the school, and after looking at the flags and graffiti, he reviewed the campus' surveillance system.
According to Stowe, he observed an individual approach the flagpole around 3:30 a.m., and he noticed the person was moving things up and down on the pole.
At that time, Stowe said authorities believed the suspect was a male, but the tips that came in from students did not lead to a direct lead in the case.
During his testimony, Stowe said he was notified a suspect was interviewed by SGPD regarding the bomb incident at PVHS, and that the juvenile had admitted he was involved with the vandalism incident in Hurricane.
Stowe assisted in executing the search warrant of the boy's bedroom inside his grandparent's house, he said, and he located fabric that was similar to the fabric of the homemade ISIS flag.
At the time SGPD officers located the juvenile on the football field, he was carrying a second backpack. Inside the backpack, officers testified they located a laptop and notebook inside. The boy was also carrying a cell phone on his persons, according to court testimony.
Adams said, on one page inside the notebook that was admitted into evidence, were drawings that appeared to be plans regarding the creation of an IID.
"It was crude," she said.
Chris Andersen, a special agent with the FBI, testified that his specialty is in counter-terrorism, and he was called to investigate both incidents at the Southern Utah High Schools.
"When a weapon of mass destruction is identified, the FBI is called out and investigates the incident in a parallel manner to local law enforcement," he said.
The laptop and cell phone were among several items taken into FBI's evidence to review, and Andersen testified he reviewed information another forensics examiner from the FBI had determined was pertinent to the cases.
Andersen said the computer user had viewed videos of pro-ISIS propaganda and ISIS recruitment videos. He also said the user was searching various search terms like "bomb," "fuse," "Hurricane," "ISIS," "How do westerners become recruited to ISIS," "ISIS phone number," and "ways to contact ISIS."
The FBI was able to see the computer's user researched information on how to locate materials to create a bomb and viewed many instructional photos and videos online, according to Andersen.
Andersen also testified the computer user was seeking blueprints of at least 20 additional schools and locations across the state and searched online for "tactical knuckle gloves" and "ISIS uniforms."
A Facebook account was associated with the computer that belonged to an individual who's name matched that of the juvenile suspect, Andersen said, and it was created the day after the Hurricane incident, on Feb. 16.
The juvenile's preliminary hearing will continue in session on Wednesday, where the state will play additional video footage of the boy's interview with police, Adams said.
Steven Harris also told the court the defense plans to call a private psychologist in addition to other witnesses on Wednesday during the remainder of the preliminary hearing.
Following the preliminary hearing, the judge will determine whether or not the boy will be tried as an adult. Adams said it is the state's burden to establish probable cause in order for the case to be transferred to adult court.
The juvenile has been held in the detention center throughout the court proceedings.
Follow Emily Havens on Twitter @EmilyJHavens
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