A South Burlington High School student accused of making email and phone threats against the school last week is in jail and facing federal charges.
Federal prosecutors say they caught 18-year-old Josiah Leach after he logged into a free email account with the username "sbhsmurder2017" from his home internet connection. Court filings show authorities had help from South Burlington school technology staff, Microsoft, Google, FairPoint Communications and other tech companies during their investigation.
Leach is accused of the crime of "knowingly transmitting in interstate commerce a communication containing a threat to injure the person of another." The "interstate" charge stems from the fact that the threats came from internet servers outside of Vermont, even though Leach allegedly made the threats from within the state.
Court filings show that investigators tracked multiple threats made against faculty and students at South Burlington High School last week. The threats resulted in lockdowns at the school on Wednesday and Thursday, and school closures on Friday.
The court records say Leach used a Virtual Private Network, also known as a VPN, to mask his location and encrypt his internet traffic when making some of the threats, but not all of them. The records suggest investigators had trouble tracking the origin of the threats made using a VPN.
“[N]ot all of the threats could be attributed to devices due to the use of a VPN and other deceptive tactics,” FBI Special Agent Jennifer Vander Veer wrote in a court filing.
Leach allegedly made the most specific threat, which included a list of individuals at the school who would be targeted with violence, from his home without disguising his location with a VPN. That threat, which came from an email address starting with “sbhsmurder2017,” led investigators to Leach’s home. Officials allegedly found two of the devices used to make the threats in Leach’s bedroom.
In court filings, prosecutors say Leach admitted in an interview with police to making the threats and claimed that he never intended to do violence to anyone. Prosecutors also sought to cast doubt on the claim of nonviolence by pointing out “self-serving lies” Leach told in the interview with police.
The documents don't mention the motive for the threats, though at least one email referred to recent controversy surrounding the school's sports teams' name, The Rebels.
In court Monday, Leach spoke quietly, answering questions from the judge with “Yes, your honor.” He didn't make any comments about the case. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's office and Leach's court-appointed attorney also refused to comment.
The judge ruled that Leach should remain in custody of U.S. Marshals until at least Thursday because he is a continuing threat to the community. Leach has not yet entered a plea in the case.
Officials say no weapons or explosives have been found in connection with the investigation.
After the hearing ended, the metallic click of handcuffs could be heard as reporters and police quietly filed out of the courtroom.