Action by officials thwarted Pottstown attack plot
They had a system, and it worked. School officials and police working hand in glove cooperated to derail what authorities described as an alienated ninth-grader's plan to shoot "everyone he did not like" at Pottstown High School.
They had a system, and it worked.
School officials and police working hand in glove cooperated to derail what authorities described as an alienated ninth-grader's plan to shoot "everyone he did not like" at Pottstown High School.
Richard Yanis, 15, was charged Tuesday with criminal attempt to commit murder for hatching a plan to open fire at the school with three guns and ammunition he had stolen from his father's gun locker, police said.
Yanis has been in custody since last Thursday. He will be tried as an adult because the juvenile-crimes code doesn't include attempted murder with a deadly weapon, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said. The purpose of filing the charge was to keep him in custody, she said.
Efforts yesterday to find out whether the family had hired a lawyer were unsuccessful. A man who answered the door at the family home shut it in a reporter's face.
School community relations director John Armato said the collaboration already in effect between police and the school paid off.
"We were notified by police [on Nov. 11] that they received a report of guns being stolen from a house where the teenager lived," Armato said.
School officials then began quiet inquiries and discovered that Yanis fit what Armato called the profile of youthful disaffection - Caucasian, 14 to 15 years old, a loner, and introverted with few friends.
"The kid fits a profile that strikes fear in any parent's heart," Armato said.
The school response forced Yanis to alter his timetable, authorities said.
He had planned to carry out the attack this year, and the only thing standing in his way was his ability to get his guns back from the friend with whom he had stashed them, police said.
When the school began to check backpacks, search lockers, and casually interview students who knew him, Yanis postponed the planned shooting spree until next year, according to police.
"From the school turning up the heat, Yanis postponed the plan until after New Year's," Ferman said at a news conference yesterday.
That bought time for police to develop information, which ultimately allowed them to recover the guns last Thursday and detain Yanis, Ferman said.
Armato credited school resource officer David Mull, a full-time Pottstown police officer stationed at the high school when it's in session, with helping to solve the case.
"He is the primary reason we were able to resolve the issue and maintain the safety and well-being of students and staff," Armato said. "He found out about the teen, and some flags went up."
Reached yesterday, Mull would say only that he had served at the school four years. His superior at the Pottstown Police Department didn't answer the phone.
Armato said the school keeps track of bullying incidents and had no reports showing that Yanis had been bullied. If Yanis was being bullied, he and his teachers and guidance counselors did not tell administrators about it. In such cases, peer mediation may be used to help, Armato said.
Two students, though, said the teen was picked on steadily, starting in middle school. His small size, tendency to cry in public, rejection by girls, and outcast image made him a target, they said.
Keith Dames, 17, a senior and neighbor, said he had known Yanis since the boy was 8 and was aware of the bullying.
"He's a little kid. People picked on him. He acted differently," Dames said. "He couldn't let it go. Maybe it was all bottled up. That makes the most sense to me."
Sean Costello, 17 and a senior, said that he had seen lots of kids made fun of at school, but that the treatment of Yanis was especially cruel.
"He just got picked on a little more. People thought he was an outcast. He cried a lot in school."
Armato said the issue was likely to receive further consideration Dec. 18 when the school board votes on its state-mandated anti-bullying policy.
In general, Armato said, "as we sit back now and continue to get more information, we'll discuss those and see if there's another piece of the puzzle we need to put in."