OGDEN — Joshua Hoggan claims he never intended to actually set off a bomb at Roy High School.
The 16-year-old, who admits being fascinated with the Columbine shootings, told a judge Tuesday that his bombing plot was just an attempt to bring attention to a lack of security at the school.
"My initial goal was awareness," Hoggan told 2nd District Juvenile Judge Janice Frost. "My end goal was never to blow up the school. ... I'm starting to understand what I did was the wrong way to go about it."
Frost sentenced Hoggan to just six months in a youth prison in Ogden, saying he made many people feel truly threatened.
Roy High School Principal Gina Butters confirmed that many students and faculty are still affected by Hoggan's elaborate plot.
"I saw the legitimate fear and paranoia on the faces of students," she said. "We've had a number of students leave Roy High School."
Butters said she still struggles to sleep at night. Three teachers have told her they are seeking new positions elsewhere because they feel unsafe. The principal still hears from parents every time the school plans an assembly, which are common in the weeks leading up to the end of the school year.
"It caused a really black, negative stigma to Roy High that I'm really saddened about," she said.
Hoggan pleaded guilty in juvenile court Tuesday to use of a weapon of mass destruction, a first-degree felony, as part of a plea bargain. Prosecutors agreed to recommend the six-month sentence in exchange for his plea and withdrew their motion to certify the teenager as an adult.
He and co-defendant Dallin Todd Morgan, 18, were arrested in January after police say they developed an elaborate plan to bomb the high school during an assembly, targeting many students, because they "wanted revenge on the world." Hoggan even told a friend to stay home from school if he ever sent her a text message warning her to stay away.
Frost told Hoggan many people may never regain a full sense of security.
"We never act in isolation," the judge said. "Our lives affect many people. Unfortunately there will be people who will carry the burden of fear and concern. Every time they hear about a school or mall shooting, they will feel anxiety."
She said Hoggan's obsession with the vulnerabilities of the school that he felt were not addressed grew to the point that it became dangerous and he considered setting off a bomb at the school.
"It seems to me that would have been a very real next step for you if this had not garnered the desired response and that's a frightening thing," the judge said.
Hoggan's attorney, Scott Nickle, said the case could be traced back to a 2010 article his client wrote in the school newspaper about security and safety at the school. Hoggan felt there were a lot of concerns that weren't being addressed by teachers and administrators.
"Josh felt invalidated so he made a last-ditch attempt to increase awareness," Nickle said of the bomb plot. "Josh realizes the conduct was inappropriate. He thought what he was doing was raising awareness."
The front-page story was about mass killings at schools such as Columbine and Virginia Tech. Hoggan reported on vulnerable rooms at Roy High School and said the school was "definitely lacking on proactive, preventative security measures."
Hoggan's father, Ron Hoggan, said his son had unsuccessfully tried to raise the topic of school safety with administrators.
"My big thing is there was lots of indicators given to lots of individuals. If attention would have been paid to what he was trying to project, this could have been avoided," he said. "If you're not willing to talk to kids when they have fears, then you do invalidate them."
Joshua Hoggan admitted in court that he's always had a fascination with Columbine and a love of aviation. The high school senior went to Colorado in December and interviewed Columbine's principal about the 1999 shootings.
"Unfortunately, in this case, everything I was fascinated by tended to not go so well together," the teen said.
Although no actual explosive devices were found, deputy Weber County attorney Letitia Toombs said Hoggan's actions were of great concern.
"The level of Josh's involvement is more than just discussion and plans. His computer had numerous recipes for bombs," Toombs said. "He could have very easily made bombs and carried out that final step."
Still, the prosecutor agreed to allow him to plead in juvenile court in order for him to get help.
"The underlying reason behind this is, in speaking with Mr. Nickle, probation, the school and law enforcement, secure confinement allows him the opportunity to go forward with treatment, schooling and help him with the issues he has," Toombs said.
She said the sentence fits with the rehabilitation goals of the juvenile court. It should also help Hoggan with "his thinking problems" and his "alarming fascination" with the Columbine shootings.
"For the next six months, the community can rest a little more at peace knowing that he is confined in a security facility," Toombs said. "He is 16 years old. There is hope he will have a productive life after this."
Roy Police Chief Greg Whinham said the plea deal helps both the community as well as Hoggan by getting him started on the path to receive the help he needs.
"I'm always relieved for a community when a case can have a resolution that doesn't drag on forever," he said. "He has every potential to get his life refocused and in a positive direction."
Whinham said he supported both the decision to prosecute Hoggan as a juvenile and the plea agreement that was reached.
"This plea demonstrates that, in fact, the threat was real and there could have been extreme consequences at the high school," he said.
Whinham said because of the pending case against Morgan he could not yet talk about specifics regarding the investigation. But he praised his officers and school officials for being able to catch the incident early before it turned into a big problem.
Butters said she believes in forgiveness and sincerely hopes Hoggan receives the help he needs and can move forward with his life. But that doesn't mean she necessarily believes the explanation from Hoggan and his attorney.
"Mr. Nickle paints a picture that this is about raising awareness, but I read every text message ... and (Hoggan) was talking about hurting people," the principal said.
Hoggan sent a number of text messages detailing his plot and explaining that he and Morgan wanted "revenge on the world."
In one text, Hoggan warned a friend, "If I tell you one day not to go to school, make damn sure you and (name redacted) are not there," a police affidavit states.
"Dallin is in on it," another text message said. "He wants revenge on the world, too."
In another text, Hoggan allegedly wrote: "I've just been kinda planning my get back at the world thing and I figured if you had anyone you wanted revenge on, I could see if I have anything planned."
After Hoggan's arrest, he talked to school resource officer Tyler Tomlinson about Columbine and his own plot.
"Joshua told me he was offended that he was compared to the Columbine killers," Tomlinson wrote. "Joshua was offended by the fact that those killers only completed 1 percent of their plan and he was much more intelligent than that. Joshua explained to me that he could complete his plan due to how intelligent he is."
School administrators also found a map of Roy High School that outlined where the school's cameras and blind spots are located.
"The mapping was an attempt to identify where all of the security systems for the school were, how they function, what they might or might not see," Whinham said at the time.
The two students had also purchased an advanced flight-simulator computer program and "logged hundreds of hours" on it, according to police. Investigators uncovered evidence that the two were learning to fly because they intended to steal a plane from the Ogden Hinckley Airport after the attack and "fly to a country that they couldn't be extradited from."
"We ain't gonna crash it, we're just gonna kill and fly our way to a country that won't send us back to the U.S.," Hoggan allegedly wrote in another text.
Hoggan worked at the school as a drama technician and had keys to many areas of the high school. After his arrest, the entire building was re-keyed at a cost of between $8,000 and $10,000. Hoggan was also ordered to pay restitution to the school.
The Youth Parole Board will ultimately decide whether Hoggan serves longer than the six-month sentence. He was ordered to be taken into custody immediately following Tuesday's hearing. His mother broke down into tears when officers took him away.
A preliminary hearing in Morgan's case has been set for May. He faces a first-degree felony charge in adult court that is punishable by up to life in prison.
Contributing: Pat Reavy
E-mail: [email protected]