Crime

Boy, 15, arrested in Instagram post that closed San Joaquin Memorial High

Guns shown in San Joaquin Memorial student threat case

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and others, during a press conference Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, show the weapons seized when a 15-year-old San Joaquin Memorial student's home was searched. Video by Silvia Flores / sflores@fresnobee.com
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Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and others, during a press conference Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, show the weapons seized when a 15-year-old San Joaquin Memorial student's home was searched. Video by Silvia Flores / sflores@fresnobee.com

On Monday, Eminem lyrics referencing a bloody school massacre were posted from the Instagram account of a San Joaquin Memorial High School sophomore.

On Tuesday, classes were canceled, and the 15-year-old was arrested on charges of making terrorist threats – a felony – and for disrupting school activity.

A Fresno police investigation ignited by the student’s social media post of the controversial rapper’s song, which refers to the Columbine High School shooting, led to a search of his home on East Lewis Avenue, where police found several guns, ammunition and a bulletproof vest.

In a news conference Tuesday, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said that detectives “have every reason to believe that there was potential for a threat to be carried out” – comparing the student’s characteristics of being a “loner” and “socially awkward” to past school shooters. But an attorney for the family denied that characterization. And the student contends he did not make the post.

At Tuesday’s news conference – which was aired live on TV – Dyer initially attributed some of Eminem’s lyrics to the teen, saying the youth had added his own words onto the song. But Dyer later retracted that statement after it was discovered that the student’s entire post is part of a different Eminem song than the one police had identified initially. Eminem repeats similar lyrics in songs “Rap God” and “I’m Back,” which caused the confusion, Dyer said.

But regardless, Dyer said, the Instagram post and a subsequent conversation with another teen were considered a threat and caused principals at both San Joaquin Memorial High and St. Anthony’s Catholic School – which the student previously attended – to cancel school on Tuesday.

Both schools planned to reopen Wednesday, and students were able to return to campus on Tuesday for football practice.

The Instagram post quoted Eminem’s song, “I’m Back,” nearly verbatim:

“I take seven kids from Columbine, stand ’em all in a line, add an AK-47, a revolver, a nine, a MAC-11 and it oughtta solve the problem of mine. And that’s a whole school of bullies shot up all at one time. I’m just like Shady and just as crazy as the world was over this whole Y2K thing.”

I take seven kids from Columbine, stand ’em all in a line, add an AK-47, a revolver, a nine, a MAC-11 and it oughtta solve the problem of mine.

Eminem in “I’m Back”

The only change made to the original lyrics is when the student compares himself to the rapper. The song actually says “I’m Shady,” not “I’m just like Shady.”

Another teen – who Dyer said was being questioned Tuesday – commented on the post and said, “Bring me with man. I got some stuff [to] settle.”

The San Joaquin Memorial student replied, “Ill text you when,” and added, “I got a couple idiots’ blocks I could knock off.”

The boy was arrested Monday night after school officials reached out to police, who then obtained a search warrant for his home. Dyer said a replica AK-47 Airsoft rifle was in plain sight when officers first visited the home. A handgun, a .357 Magnum revolver, a 12-gauge shotgun, ammunition and a bulletproof vest were later found seemingly hidden in the subfloor of a closet, Dyer said.

Both the boy and his father denied any knowledge of the guns, which were not registered. The boy’s father could also face charges for “negligent storage” of firearms and because he has an active restraining order against him and is forbidden from owning firearms.

Police also seized the boy’s cellphone and iPad.

Dyer said the detectives took the youth into custody and made arrangements for a mental health evaluation.

At the news conference, the student was compared to other young people who have opened fire at school in retaliation against bullies. The student has been bullied at school and had a particularly rough year, Dyer said.

The weapons were present, the ammunition was present, perhaps even the mindset was present to carry out those threats.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer

His mother died about a year ago from an illness, he recently broke up with his girlfriend, he quit the football team, and he was doing poorly in school, according to Dyer.

“These are really all of the things we look for in individuals that historically have been involved in incidents like Columbine. So we’re very fortunate that this was brought to our attention,” Dyer said. “We have every reason to believe that he was reaching out for help.…The weapons were present. The ammunition was present. Perhaps even the mindset was present to carry out those threats.”

But the boy’s attorney, Linden Lindahl, paints a different picture and says it was clear during questioning that officers “had already made up their minds that he did it.”

“They weren’t trying to get information,” he said. “They were questioning him as if he were already guilty.”

Family’s lawyer speaks

Lindahl said his client didn’t post the Instagram message, denied being depressed and also denied being bullied at school.

Lindahl was with the boy and the family when police searched the home. He said they were cooperative with the officers, giving detectives permission to search the residence, but the detectives thought it would be better to get a search warrant.

The boy also told police that the post was from Eminem’s song “I’m Back” despite what was said at Tuesday’s news conference, Lindahl said.

When detectives asked the teen whether he posted the Instagram message, he said no, adding that “perhaps his computer was hacked.”

The detectives also asked him whether he was depressed about his mother’s death. But he said he wasn’t, Lindahl said. In addition, the boy said that he didn’t break up with his girlfriend, but had a small argument with her recently. “It was a tiff,” Lindahl said.

The family is shocked by the allegations because he had never been in trouble before, Lindahl said, noting that the boy is not on medication.

He said the family offered to voluntarily commit the boy for a mental health evaluation, but police involuntarily committed him.

“His family describes him as a quiet kid with a circle of six to seven friends,” Lindahl said.

The weapons were in the basement that could only be accessed through a closet in the father’s bedroom, the attorney said. Lindahl pointed out that the Airsoft AK-47 was not to scale and had a bright orange tip, which signals that it is not a real weapon.

The investigation is ongoing.

Staff writer Pablo Lopez contributed to this story.

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays

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