Freshman arrested for planning attack at Cal

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A Cal High freshman boy was arrested last month on suspicion of planning a school shooting on campus his senior year. 

The boy was arrested on April 19 and booked into Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall after it was reported by another student that he allegedly planned to shoot classmates in 2021, the boy’s senior year, according to school and district administrators.

Principal Sarah Cranford sent an email the day of the boy’s arrest explaining the situation to all students, parents and teachers.

“This particular case became known to us because a student was concerned of what they heard from the student in question,” said Superintendent Rick Schmitt during a press conference with The Californian staff on May 11. “What used to be this impenetrable code of silence among teenagers has been broken, and I’m proud of students who have come forward in the face of this, ‘I’m a teen, I’m not gonna snitch’ mentality.” 

The boy was later released from Juvenile Hall after investigators determined that he did not have the means to follow through with his alleged plans. 

After the boy was released from custody, Cranford sent a second email on April 26, updating parents and students about the situation. 

“The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office has decided not to file charges at this time,” Cranford wrote. “The student was recently released from Juvenile Hall.” 

Cranford emphasized in her email that Cal had not allowed the student to return to school, and has no plans to allow him to return. 

“We recognize that this feels like alarming information, but the school, district, and Board of Education share your concern for the safety of the staff and your students,” Cranford wrote.

Schmitt said the student has been recommended for expulsion, which would force him to stay away from schools in the district for one year. 

“In terms of the individual himself, there are very strict statutes in state of California, but they have their limits,” Schmitt said of the expulsion proceedings. “It’s similar to a trial with due process. What we’re able to do until it’s resolved is make it so students with that level of violation aren’t welcome on campus.”

According to classmates, the boy had allegedly created a list of people he wanted to target during his planned attack. 

Cal’s School Resource Officer Abbas Husain would not confirm if such a list existed due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.

“I had friends who were on his ‘list’,” said a freshman who wished to remain anonymous. “I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t seem any less normal than any of the other 30 kids in the class I knew him from.”

Many others had similar opinions about the threat. 

“I felt shocked, appalled and disgusted, but I can’t say I was surprised,” said another freshman. “We’ve all been waiting for stuff like this to happen.”

Since the student was released from custody, numerous questions have been raised about what would happen if the student could return to the school or another school in the district. 

“If they released him and he came back and did harm to students or killed someone, the school could be looking at a criminal negligence charge if they knew he had threatened people in the past and didn’t act on it,” said Alameda County assistant district attorney Ken Mifsud, who has two daughters at Cal and serves as one of the attorney coaches for the school’s mock trial team. 

This incident mirrors a similar case earlier this year in Vermont, where 18-year-old Jack Sawyer was arrested in February after police were alerted about his plans to carry out a shooting at his former high school. 

Sawyer had even purchased a weapon and had detailed attack plans as well as a list of people he wanted to kill in a journal titled “The journal of an active shooter,” according to CBS News. 

Sawyer was charged with aggravated assault, two counts of attempted aggravated murder and one count of attempted first degree murder. All of these crimes are considered felonies, and he was held without bail.

But all felony charges against him were dropped by state Supreme Court  justices with the explanation that “an ‘attempt’ under Vermont law requires an intent to commit a crime, coupled with an act that, but for an interruption, would result in the completion of a crime.”  

Sawyer was released and only faced a few misdemeanor charges, according to According to The New York Times.

As for the Cal freshman, Mifsud does not have jurisdiction over the case, but he was nonetheless able to theorize what the initial charges against the student were.

“There were three potential crimes in place here: penal code 422, terrorist threats is the most likely, penal codes 71, [threatening a public official or public employee], and 148.1, [false bomb report]” said Mifsud. “The most likely reason is because in order for a crime to be considered an attempt there needs to be immediate prospect, meaning there needs to be an immediate threat.”

The freshman was arrested following a report made by a fellow student, similarly to the Vermont case. 

The incidents both highlight the importance of everyone being vigilant in the rising numbers of school shootings.

“Many times, parents, classmates, and relatives heard it but didn’t say anything,” said Schmitt. “The times and conditions have changed, and we need to do more.”