The Colonial School District and a Plymouth Township woman charged with buying weapons for her 14-year-old son discussed the boy's military obsession more than a year before he was caught plotting a Columbine-style attack, a witness testified yesterday.
School district psychologist Robyn Walchuk testified that Dillon Cossey was referred to a child-study team by his guidance counselor for attendance irregularities and emotional issues around the fall of 2005. Members of the team, which included Walchuk, then met with Michele Cossey, the teenager's mother, Walchuk said.
The testimony came at a preliminary hearing for the mother, who was held for trial on charges that included giving her son a 9mm assault rifle. Her son was arrested in October.
At the meeting with school officials, Cossey said she had concerns about what was described as an online military club her son had set up to seek the creation of a superior U.S. military, Walchuk said.
She also said Michele Cossey discussed the fact that her son "had reported seeing or being touched by supernatural things." Walchuk was not asked to elaborate on either issue.
Questioned by defense attorney Timothy Woodward, Walchuk said no one believed that Dillon - whose bedroom cache of weapons included knives and live grenades - had "violent intentions."
Walchuk said the evaluation of Dillon Cossey resulted in a written report in April 2006, but there was no testimony about its content.
Asked about the report and the district's knowledge of Cossey's problems, Superintendent Vincent F. Cotter issued a statement: "The District was actively and constructively working with the family until the family chose to withdraw the child from the Colonial School District."
Citing privacy laws, district spokesman David M. Sherman said the district could not discuss the Cosseys' decision, about 18 months ago, to home-school their son.
Carolyn Stone, past president of the American School Counselor Association, said child-study teams are subject to stringent federal regulations. She said they cannot be convened without parental approval and typically are formed when a child's needs are not being met by the regular educational program.
"You don't release child-study information ever, ever, ever," she said, adding that the only exception is "a court order signed by a judge."
Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Douglas K. Rosenblum said the school acted appropriately.
"They were trying to assist in addressing his emotional needs," Rosenblum said. ". . . It was Mrs. Cossey who put weapons in her son's hands."
Dillon Cossey, often described as an outcast, came to the attention of police on Oct. 10 after a friend told authorities that the teen was planning the assault.
After his arrest, Cossey admitted the plot and said his mother bought him weapons, which led to her charges. The teen, who has been in juvenile custody, is awaiting a judge's decision on a treatment program, which will end sometime before he turns 21.
Yesterday, Magisterial District Judge Francis J. Bernhardt III dismissed one count of reckless endangerment and held Cossey for trial on all other charges, including three felonies: unlawful transfer of a firearm, possession of a firearm by a minor, and child endangerment.
Cossey, 46, who was accompanied by her husband, Frank, responded to the judge's decision with tears and a brief outburst that drew a rebuke to keep quiet from her attorney, Timothy Woodward.
During the approximately hour-long proceeding, Woodward argued that Cossey's actions could be construed as misguided, but not malevolent.
Two of the three guns she purchased that resulted in charges were stored by John Diamond, a family acquaintance. Diamond testified that he did not believe the Cosseys knew his address, which prompted Woodward to argue that Dillon could not have "possessed" those guns.
Woodward also pointed out that no ammunition was found for the guns and that minors with guns are not necessarily breaking the law.
Otherwise, "we might as well lock up hundreds of people in this commonwealth," Woodward said, explaining that a minor can possess a gun if it is used under adult supervision for a lawful activity such as target shooting.
Rosenblum said the fact that the assault weapon was found in Dillon Cossey's bedroom - along with swords, knives and home-made grenades - proved the danger and absence of parental supervision.
He also referred to Plymouth Township Detective Jeffrey McGee, who said he was told the grenades "would have blown up the house."