Crime & Courts

Student said he hated African Americans, threatened ‘to shoot up’ Columbia school

In a series of racist videos and texts, a 16-year-old student at Cardinal Newman threatened to “shoot up the school’’ last spring after he fired an automatic rifle and a shotgun in the videos to demonstrate his hatred for African Americans, authorities said.

The student, whose name was not released because he is a juvenile, was charged with making student threats and expelled July 15, according to a July 17 incident report from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. That followed the discovery by school officials of a group text message that included videos with racist comments.

Authorities said some videos and texts were posted May 11 at 12:34 p.m. That was on a Saturday when school was not in session, but before Cardinal Newman let out for the academic year. The Sheriff’s Department said it did not learn about the racist and threatening videos and texts until mid-July.

In one video, reviewed by The State, the teenager describes himself as a “hater of all black men” and twice uses the N-word. He pretends an object on the ground is an African American and shoots it repeatedly with two guns.

At the end, he looks at the camera and says: “Thank you for watching my PSA. F--- all (racial slur).”

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said his office took the threat from the white student seriously after the discovery of the texts and videos that he said had been distributed among students.

“It was brought to our attention that videos were being distributed among students,’’ Lott said in an email late Friday afternoon. “We worked very closely with the school to identify the students involved. We take all threats seriously. This is an example of how schools and law enforcement can work together to quickly address threats and perceived threats to schools and students.”

Dan Goldberg, a prosecutor with the Richland County Solicitor’s Office, declined comment on the disposition of the case, saying it is “technically a pending juvenile matter.’’

Last spring’s threats occurred at a time of increasing concern across the country about school safety. Multiple school shootings in recent years have put authorities and school officials on alert. Cardinal Newman, located in northeast Richland County, is a Catholic school for students in grades 7-12. It has more than 500 students.

Cardinal Newman’s new principal, Robert Loia, notified parents of the incident in an email late Friday night, after The State had published a story on its website about the racist and threatening videos and texts. Loia said swift action kept students safe, but he suggested that parents prepare for scrutiny over the incident.

“The next few days may be challenging for Cardinal Newman School, so I ask your prayers for our students, teachers, staff and administration,’’ the letter said.

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An initial text and videos discovered by school officials found the juvenile making racist comments and pretending to shoot black people, according to the Sheriff’s Department. In one instance, the teenager used real guns and shot a box of tennis shoes, authorities said. He used a derogatory term for black people, saying he hated them and “they are stinky,’’ according to the Richland County incident report. This and another video prompted Cardinal Newman to expel him, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Then, on July 17 — two days after the student was expelled — more videos were discovered in which he threatened violence, authorities said.

“Additional videos and text messages .... state that he is on his way to shoot up the school, which constitutes the crime of student threats,’’ the Sheriff’s Department incident report said.

A video attached to the text showed him firing a long gun, the report said. He also was seen in videos showing what appeared to be an automatic rifle and a shotgun, the incident report said.

The law the 16-year-old was charged with violating says it’s illegal for a student to make threats to take the life or to inflict bodily harm upon another by using any form of communication.

Officials with the Catholic Diocese of Charleston said Friday night the school “immediately notified’’ law enforcement after learning of the racist video. After expelling the student from school, Cardinal Newman learned about the threats, the Diocese said.

“Several days later, upon becoming aware of the ‘shoot up’ threat, school officials again advised law enforcement of that information and the student was arrested,’’ the statement said. “Because the threat was promptly addressed by school officials and the authorities, the risk to the school community was neutralized.“

“Safety and respect for the dignity of all is a top priority at Cardinal Newman School. Administrators take extensive measures to ensure that the school building is secure at all times and they immediately contact law enforcement if they feel there is a potential threat against school students or staff.”

Staff writer Avery G. Wilks contributed to this story.

Sammy Fretwell has covered the environment for more than 20 years at The State. He writes about an array of environmental subjects, including nature, climate change, energy, state environmental policy, nuclear waste and coastal development. Fretwell is a University of South Carolina graduate who grew up in Anderson County. Reach him at 803 771 8537.