EVERETT — A would-be school shooter pleaded guilty Thursday to plotting the mass murder of his classmates in Everett.
In a red spiral journal, Joshua O’Connor drafted plans to zip tie doors, set off bombs and “mow kids down in (the) hallway and gym” at ACES, an alternative campus in the Mukilteo School District.
O’Connor, 18, admitted in Superior Court to attempted first-degree murder, unlawful possession of an explosive device and first-degree robbery, for an armed holdup of a minimart to fund the plot.
State guidelines suggest he could serve 22½ to 28⅓ years in prison. His defense attorney expects to ask a judge for less time at sentencing Feb. 6.
O’Connor’s grandmother may have saved many lives in February, when she found his journal under his pillow. On the front cover were the words “Anarchy” and “(Expletive) The Population.” She read the entries. The next morning, she dialed 911.
O’Connor was stockpiling homemade explosives. He bought the same model of military-style rifle used by a Columbine High School shooter. He lionized mass killers. He wrote that he wanted the massacre to have the highest body count possible. He planned to kill himself afterward, writing a will to say who should get his guitars, clothes, swords and tobacco pipe.
His entries reflected anger at society and laws. At one point he wrote that he could think of nothing but murder. He’d dressed as one of the Columbine shooters for an acting project in January 2017. His drama teacher reluctantly approved his character choice, as long as he was objective in his portrayal.
His fixation seemed to be a mystery even to O’Connor.
“(If your reading this I’m dead),” began a note dated Nov. 30, 2017. “Where do I start? Sure I can talk about my (messed) up childhood, but who really cares? I know what you’re wondering. ‘Why did you do it?’ I don’t know.”
Around the time O’Connor entered high school in Arizona, his mother was investigated for neglect of her children, according to charging papers. O’Connor’s grandparents became his legal guardians around 2015. He was a B-plus student.
Months later, he started smoking marijuana and hanging out with a friend who was a “negative influence,” the charges say. His grades plummeted to a 1.5 GPA. His grandparents moved to Washington, hoping to give O’Connor a fresh start. He was suspended twice from Kamiak High School, for drug-related issues. He ran away for five months, and traveled the West Coast. A rollover crash left him with a concussion and a broken ankle — and it tipped off his grandma that he’d gone back to Arizona. She bought a ticket to fly him to Snohomish County last year. He enrolled in ACES. He told a small circle of new friends he’d been bullied at Kamiak.
Just after his 18th birthday, O’Connor ordered a Hi-Point carbine rifle from West Coast Armory North in Everett.
“I can’t wait for the carbine to come,” he wrote. “It’s too (expletive) easy to buy a gun.”
He flipped a coin in early February, to decide what school to target. It came up ACES. O’Connor chose a time and date — lunch on April 19, the day before the annual remembrance of the Columbine shooting. He mapped his footsteps to the minute.
He used an Amazon gift card to buy a Donald Trump mask, a Kim Jong Un mask and tactical gloves. Security footage showed O’Connor and a classmate wore masks and jackets in a stickup of an Everett minimart near his home. He shoved the rifle in a clerk’s face. O’Connor thought the cash would fund the school shooting. The robbers escaped with $100.
O’Connor didn’t have a key when he came home after 10 p.m. So he rang the doorbell. It gave his grandmother time to hide the journal under the pillow again. She’d been making photocopies.
O’Connor came inside on a sub-freezing night in just a T-shirt, carrying a guitar case. His jacket, he said, was inside the soft-shelled case. But it looked like it held something much heavier. He went to bed and wrote one final entry about how “powerful” he felt during the robbery.
The next morning his grandmother drove him to school. Afterward, she opened the guitar case and saw a rifle. She called police.
The accomplice in the robbery, Marquez Daniel, maintained he didn’t know about the school shooting plot. He was sentenced to two years in prison. He agreed to testify against O’Connor, if the case went to trial.
In jail, O’Connor allegedly tried to recruit an inmate for another school shooting plot. O’Connor hasn’t been charged in that case. The inmate divulged the new plot to his lawyer.
O’Connor invited the man to his cell for coffee in May. The inmate got a strange feeling, walked downstairs and was attacked by O’Connor’s cellmate Travis Hammons, according to the first-degree assault charges. The injured man was knocked out.
Hammons is awaiting trial.
Detectives reviewed O’Connor’s phone records. Often he searched the internet for explosives, weapons and body armor. He had screenshots of police scanner codes and street maps to local campuses.
He had a picture of the ACES bell schedule. The timestamp on the photo was 8:10 a.m., hours before police pulled him from class to talk. The next day, 17 people were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
This story has been modified to correct the name of the business where Joshua O’Connor ordered a rifle.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.