EVERETT — An Everett teenager convicted of a high school shooting plot must serve 22½ years in prison, a judge ruled Thursday.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss had been weighing the sentence for Joshua O’Connor since a three-hour court hearing Feb. 12.
The teen’s grandmother, Catherine Katsel O’Connor, asked Weiss to show mercy to the defendant, 19. She’s the one who looked in the teen’s bedroom in February 2018, and found his spiral journal full of plans for a massacre, along with a Hi-Point carbine rifle hidden in his guitar case.
The grandma called 911.
“To me, ma’am, you are a hero,” the judge told her Thursday.
In the room, police seized inert grenades and evidence that O’Connor carried out an armed robbery at a local minimart.
At the time O’Connor was a student at ACES, an alternative high school in the Mukilteo School District. Everett officers pulled him from class to arrest him.
One day later, 17 people were gunned down at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
O’Connor had outlined his shooting down to the minute. He would plant pressure cooker bombs under the bleachers, zip-tie door handles and “mow kids down in the hallway and gym,” according to the entries. He picked a date in late April, to coincide with the mass killing at Columbine High School.
Afterward he planned to kill himself, or else die in a shootout with the police. He hand-wrote a will.
On Thursday the judge read aloud passages from the journal: “I’ve been thinking a lot. I Need to make this shooting / bombing at Kamiak infamous. I Need to get the biggest fatality number I possibly can. I NEED to make this count.”
O’Connor winced at the defense table.
His initial target had been Kamiak High School, where he’d been suspended twice. Later he flipped a coin to decide if he would attack his former or current school.
“The results: I’m coming for you Ace’s,” he wrote. “(Expletive) Kamiak you (expletives) got lucky. I hope someone follows in my footsteps and gets you dumb (expletives). I can’t wait to (expletive) up Ace’s! April is gonna be a blast.”
Prosecutors also accused O’Connor of trying to concoct a second school shooting from behind bars. The judge found the state had not met the burden of proof for the second plot to be considered at sentencing Thursday.
Another inmate told police in May 2018 that O’Connor tried to recruit him to bomb Kamiak and shoot up Mariner High School. The inmate, 34, claimed he was savagely beaten in the jail because word leaked out that he’d revealed the scheme to an attorney. Prosecutors wrote that O’Connor recruited another inmate, Travis Hammons, to attack the man. The assault lasted 57 seconds without interruption, leaving the inmate with a broken nose, bruising and bleeding in the brain.
Hammons was charged with first-degree assault. He’s awaiting trial.
O’Connor’s defense denied the state’s theory and questioned the reliability of the injured inmate — a burglar and thief who reportedly lives with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
O’Connor witnessed the fight but did not try to stop it. Neither did a corrections deputy, as he tried to call for backup on a pair of malfunctioning radios, according to the defense.
“We should not expect an 18-year-old senior in high school to break up a violent altercation between two grown men if a trained correction officer who is paid to de-escalate volatile inmates does not do so either,” wrote the defense attorney, Michael Sheehy.
O’Connor was not charged with the second plot. He pleaded guilty in December to first-degree attempted murder, illegal possession of an explosive device and first-degree robbery.
He’d written about the gas station stickup in his journal, minutes after making his getaway on Feb. 12, 2018.
That night he walked into the store on Casino Road wearing a Kim Jong Un mask. He stuck the barrel of his rifle in a clerk’s face. O’Connor fled with $100. A classmate was convicted of helping him with the robbery.
Charges say O’Connor had no income, but he’d written a list of guns he wanted to use in the school shooting. Prosecutors theorized the heist was supposed to pay for the arsenal.
In an interview with a psychologist hired by the defense, O’Connor denied that was the point.
“I did not care about the money,” he reportedly said. “It was the thrill of it for me, to hold a gun to someone. I felt power, an adrenaline rush, a high.”
The defense argued years of trauma in O’Connor’s youth left him stunted and immature. His mother lived with untreated and undiagnosed mental illness. Her homes — many of them, because the family kept getting evicted — had no water, food or electricity for months at a time, the defense wrote in court filings. The children suffered physical abuse, too, they reported.
State guidelines suggested a sentence of 22½ to 28⅓ years. In light of O’Connor’s past and his immaturity, the defense asked for an exceptional sentence of 12 years in prison.
The judge, however, found the teen knew the consequences of what he meant to do, and spent months plotting details.
“This was not the work or the brain of a youth with low impulse control,” Weiss said. “It was a plan, premeditated and contemplated. It was not an impulsive act.”
In a written statement to the court, O’Connor said he was ashamed and sorry for his disturbing thoughts. He’d been suicidal. He’d been abusing drugs and alcohol.
But he’d matured in the past year, he said. He had turned to religion, read self-help books and studied Russian. He was preparing to take college courses.
The judge responded Thursday, saying he hopes O’Connor will follow through on those new, positive plans for his life.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.