A 15-year-old high school student was arrested at his home in Volusia County, Florida, on Friday for allegedly making an online threat to shoot up a school.
“I Dalton Barnhart vow to bring my fathers m15 to school and kill 7 people at a minimum,” the teen wrote in a Minecraft chat that was screenshotted and shared on the messaging platform Discord on Thursday.
“Dalton Barnhart” is a pseudonym and not the teen’s real name.
During his arrest, the teen’s mother told officers that her son was “just a little kid playing a video game” and that he shouldn’t be “treated like a terrorist” for making a joke, according to a video of the encounter released by authorities.
“How do we know he’s not going to be the kid from Parkland…that he’s not going to be the next kid, the kid that shot up Sandy Hook,” Detective Brian Howard told the mother. “We don’t know that.”
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office on Monday released body camera footage of the teen’s arrest as a warning, saying, “jokes or not, these types of comments are felonies under the law.”
The video showing the exchange between the officer and the teen’s mother is being shared widely amid a spate of arrests for threats of mass shootings across the country following the recent massacres in Texas and Ohio.
After the teen made the alleged threat during a gaming discussion on Discord, an anonymous tipster on the messaging platform reported his comment to the FBI on Thursday. Authorities tracked down the teen in the Ormond Beach area by using his Discord username, FalconWarrior920, according to an arrest affidavit provided to BuzzFeed News.
The teen later admitted to authorities that he made the comment about shooting up his school on Discord but insisted he was joking.
Discord banned him from the chat platform after he made the comment.
The Seabreeze High School student, whom BuzzFeed News is not naming because he is a minor, is facing a felony charge of threat to discharge a destructive device. He was sent to a juvenile detention facility.
A spokesperson for the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice declined to provide details on the teen’s current status. The school did not respond to a request for comment.
“After the mass violence we’ve seen in Florida and across the country, law enforcement officers have a responsibility to investigate and charge those who choose to make these types of threatening statements,” the sheriff’s office said on social media.
During the recorded encounter on Friday, the teen’s mother told one of the officers, “He’s just a little kid playing a video game.”
Detective Howard replied, “And all these kids keep getting arrested. That’s why the FBI and the local law enforcement are spending so much time on this, because how do we know he’s not going to be the kid from Parkland…that he’s not going to be the next kid, the kid that shot up Sandy Hook. We don’t know that.”
A 19-year-old gunman killed 17 people and injured 17 others at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018. A 20-year-old gunman shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children between the ages of six and seven, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.
The mom, who became upset during the conversation, argued that “these kids say stuff like that all the time.”
“It is a joke to them,” she said. “It’s a game.”
She asked why her son was being arrested “just for a comment.”
Howard told her that her son had made a written statement to kill people and carry out a mass shooting or act of terror.
“So if I get on there and say ‘I pledge ISIS and I’m going to blow everybody up,’ that’s the same charge as ‘you know what man, I’m fed up and I’m going to school tomorrow and shoot up my school,’” he told her.
However, the woman repeatedly insisted that her son was “just a little boy.”
“Yes, he’s 15 but he’s still a little boy,” she said. “He’s not one of the crazy people out there doing stuff … he shouldn’t be treated as though he is a terrorist or something just because he made a silly statement on a stupid video game.”
The mother told authorities that the family did have a gun in the residence, but that her son did not have access to it.
“So he has hands and feet,” Howard responded. “He can grab your gun and go do something.”
To which she replied, “He would never do anything like that.”
“We don’t know that,” the officer said.
Andrew Gant, a spokesperson for the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, told BuzzFeed News that the family did not own an M15 rifle, as the teen wrote in his threat, but that they owned a different gun. Gant did not know the type of weapon and could not comment on how it was secured.
“This is the world we live in where people think it’s funny to say ‘I’m going to go kill people at school,’” Howard told the teen’s mom after her son’s arrest.
Another officer, Deputy Jeff Werfel, who was also on the scene attempted to console the mother, saying that parents always believe that their kids wouldn’t carry out a mass shooting, “but unfortunately someone’s son does.”
“This is the world we’re in where kids are getting shot at school while they’re trying to learn,” Werfel told the mom. “And unfortunately we can’t take risks and we can’t say ‘alright, we trust that this guy is not going to do it’ and then it happens and then we say ‘well, we had the chance to stop it.’”
She then blamed “grown ups” on video game apps who “goaded” her son.
Detective Howard reprimanded her for accusing adults of influencing her son’s behavior.
“You need a roof over your head, food, and water,” he told her. “He doesn’t need the game.”
“He is going to face the consequences,” the officer said.
The teen’s mother did not respond to a request for comment.
Gant, the sheriff’s spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News that law enforcement officers “are frustrated with the frequency of these types of threats and the casual way they’re posted on social media, in chat apps and on other platforms.”
He said that most of the time, the kids who make the threat tell officers they were joking.
“From a law enforcement perspective, after the tragedies we’ve seen here in Florida and across the country, we just can’t have the luxury of tolerance for jokes about mass shootings, because so often they can be indistinguishable from actual threats,” Gant said.
Since the deadly shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, earlier this month, law enforcement agencies have arrested several men for threatening to carry out mass shootings. Most of these threats are made online and have targeted schools, religious and ethnic minorities, and abortion clinics.
On the day of the teen’s arrest, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office also arrested a 25-year-old man for making threats to commit a mass shooting.
Tristan Scott Wix was arrested after he allegedly detailed — in texts to his ex-girlfriend — his plans to “open fire on a large crowd of people” and “break a world record for longest confirmed kill ever.”
“A good 100 kills would be nice,” one text said. “I already have a location.”