A Utah teenager arrested in a plot to detonate a bomb during a high school assembly pleaded no contest Thursday to a reduced charge after prosecutors decided he had a minimal role in the plan.
Dallin Morgan had originally been charged with felony possession of a weapon of mass destruction, but prosecutors concluded that the plan was actually dreamed up by a 16-year-old accomplice; Morgan’s plea Thursday was to criminal mischief. In addition to 105 days in jail, he was ordered to serve 18 months’ probation.
Morgan and classmate Joshua Hoggan were arrested in January by investigators who said the pair were inspired by the 1999 Columbine shootings. The initial charges detailed an expansive plot that included securing school blueprints and a plan to commandeer a plane to escape after the bombing.
The plan was foiled when a classmate alerted school officials after receiving text messages warning of the plan to blow up Roy High School in Roy, a suburb of 38,000 people about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City.
Dean Saunders, deputy Weber County attorney, told the Los Angeles Times that he was satisfied with Morgan’s plea deal because the youth was “much less culpable” than his accomplice, whom he called “the driving force” in the plan.
“He just didn’t have the same participation – he was not the instigator,” Saunders said of Morgan. “The other guy would talk about certain things he wanted to do. They were his plans, his ideas.”
Investigators never found a bomb, but Saunders said conspiracy is an element of the possession charge.
Hoggan pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon of mass destruction. He was ordered to at least six months in juvenile detention, but officials say he will spend at least one year in custody.
Saunders said prosecutors wanted to be fair with Morgan, who had just turned 18 – making him chargeable as an adult – when he was arrested.
“We balanced the factors to be as fair as we could,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “He is doing jail time, but everybody, from the school to the police, felt this was a reasonable thing to do.”
Investigators said the two teens studied the school’s security systems and figured out how to avoid being seen by security cameras. A month before his arrest, Hoggan went to Columbine to talk with people about the 1999 rampage there; in that incident, two high school seniors shot and killed at least 12 students and one teacher before killing themselves.
Hoggan also spent hundreds of hours on a flight simulator that police said he hoped would prepare him to fly a plane after the bomb went off. They also obtained plans of school security systems to avoid being spotted by surveillance cameras, police said.
A girl at the school contacted police after she received a text from Hoggan that read: “If I told you to stay home on a certain day, would you?” In another text, Hoggan wrote: “I’ve just been kinda planning my get back at the world thing and I figured if you had anyone you wanted revenge on, I could see if I have anything planned,” authorities alleged.
Hoggan later told police that his plans were merely intended to call for better security at Roy High School.
“I’m just glad that people came forward early on and that police followed up,” Saunders said. “I hope they never would have followed through with this. But you never know.”