SALT LAKE CITY — A teenager accused of trying to make a backpack bomb and detonate it at a southern Utah high school has a history of being bullied and often kept it to himself, his parents testified in court this week in St. George.
"He tries to figure things out himself," the mother of the 16-year-old said. "And even before he'll come to me, sometimes I'll ask him, 'What are you thinking about?' And he'll say, 'I'm not ready to talk about it with you, but I'm working on it.'"
Experts offered differing views of the risk the teen may pose to his community after the March ordeal at Pine View High School in St. George. No one was injured, but police said the school was evacuated after students discovered a smoking backpack near a vending machine in March.
A judge did not immediately issue a ruling Friday after two days of a hearing meant to determine whether the boy will be tried as an adult.
Prosecutors want him to face the charges of use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted murder, both first-degree felonies, in adult court, saying he had a plan to kill people that should not be minimized. They sought to show that even if he were convicted in the adult system, a judge would retain greater control of his case after sentencing, and the boy could still could get resources through the juvenile system until he turns 18.
The Deseret News has chosen not to identify the teen at this time.
The boy's defense attorney countered that the teen likely would respond to treatment and the case should remain in Utah's juvenile system, which focuses on rehabilitating young offenders and can impose penalties such as fines, detention and probation, but not prison.
On Thursday, therapist Shara Mitchell Ogilvie testified that the boy is on the autism spectrum but targeted treatment could help prevent him from being a threat to others in the future, the St. George Spectrum newspaper reported.
Ogilvie's conclusion echoed a similar evaluation from a psychologist. Tim Kockler previously testified that the teen was functioning on the autism spectrum, which affects how he deals with emotions.
But on Friday, prosecutors called an expert to the stand who testified that autism doesn't account for all of the boy's behavior. The forensic psychiatrist, Gregory Saathoff, reviewed the evidence in the case and said more assessment would be needed to further diagnose the student.
"The state’s position is that there may be more going on with him than just autism, and also that he was more dangerous than he would lead you to believe, and more capable," deputy Washington County attorney Angela Adams said after the hearing.
Fifth District Juvenile Judge Paul Dame last week ordered the teen to stand trial, saying there was enough evidence for the case to move forward.
In March, the 16-year-old told investigators he was responsible for the device and that he did not really care if people got hurt, according to video shown in court.
The boy also was ordered to stand trial on misdemeanor charges of spray painting "ISIS is comi--" on a school wall at Hurricane High School, and of cutting up an American flag at the school and replacing it with a homemade ISIS flag.7 comments on this story
A search of the teen's laptop showed he had read web pages on how to build bombs and a fuse and researched ISIS, an FBI agent testified in June. In an interview with police shown in court, the boy said he was responsible for the graffiti, flag, and the backpack, and that he wanted to cause fear and didn't really care if people got hurt.
The device that started smoking could have started a large fire but would not have exploded, a bomb expert testified in May.
The teen is due back in court July 13.