Prosecutors recently dropped the four most serious charges against a man who had been accused of plotting a high school shooting — allegations that have sparked fear in the Vermont community where he lives.
Jack Sawyer, 18, was arrested Feb. 15, just a day after the high school massacre in Parkland, Fla. He was charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault with a weapon.
Sawyer was accused of planning to commit a school shooting at the high school he previously attended in Fair Haven.
But a ruling by state Supreme Court earlier this month made the prosecution of Sawyer “untenable,” according to Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy. The court ruled that “preparation alone” for mass murder didn’t constitute a felony attempt at murder.
Kennedy said she would now proceed to prosecute Sawyer based on two lesser charges of criminal threatening and carrying a dangerous weapon.
Sawyer has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He had been held without bail since February, but last week the judge set his bail at $100,000 and it has since been lowered to just $10,000.
Sawyer’s lawyer said Wednesday that his client would not be released from custody just yet.
But the fears of possible shooting after Sawyer’s release are rocking the local community — and the state.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott said the Sawyer arrest influenced his stand on some proposed changes in state gun restrictions. On April 11, he signed bills to raise the age for buying firearms, ban high-capacity magazines and make it easier for authorities to take guns from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.
The move established the first significant gun restrictions on gun ownership in Vermont history — drawing the ire of many gun rights supporters, who heckled Scott with shouts of “Traitor!” and “Liar!” when he signed the gun control bills in a public ceremony.
Meanwhile, officials at Fair Haven Union High School — the previously alleged target of Sawyer — said they have taken precautions in connection with Sawyer’s likely release.
Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell said Wednesday that the school has planned an additional police presence and conducted security audits amid community concerns.
Sawyer allegedly kept a diary called, “The Journal of an Active Shooter,” that included extensive plans for a school shooting that would surpass the death toll of any other school shooting.
Authorities were alerted about Sawyer’s diary by one of his friends, who provided some Facebook messages detailing the plot.
The defense argued that Sawyer didn’t take any steps to actually commit the crime. While he moved back from Maine to Vermont and had bought a shotgun and ammunition, he had not visited the former high school or the town where the school is located, the lawyers said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.