A Vermont teenager who was arrested last week after police discovered that he was planning to shoot up his former high school spent the last year and a half at a residential facility for troubled teens in midcoast Maine.

Jack Sawyer, 18, also was enrolled part time at York County Community College in Wells this semester but had withdrawn from his class this month.

Sawyer has pleaded not guilty in Vermont to two counts of attempted aggravated murder and individual counts of attempted first-degree murder and attempted aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He is being held without bail.

According to an arrest affidavit, Vermont State Police thwarted Sawyer’s plan to carry out a shooting at Fair Haven High School thanks to the help of a girl who had met the young man at Ironwood Maine, a residential treatment facility and private school in Morrill, near Belfast, where both were living.

Angela McDevitt, who now lives in Lagrangeville, New York, told the Poughkeepsie Journal that she was concerned about a disturbing exchange she had with Sawyer over Facebook Messenger following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting last week that left 17 people dead.

McDevitt shared those messages with police. They included Sawyer expressing support for the shooting in Florida and referring to it as a case of “natural selection.” When McDevitt questioned him about the remark, he replied, “I don’t know why you think that I would think any differently. Like you know that I was going to shoot up my own school so I don’t really have much remorse.”

Attempts to reach McDevitt on Wednesday were not successful but she told the New York newspaper that she was conflicted about reporting Sawyer.

“But I knew that I had to because it was a matter of lives at hand,” she said.

Police detained Sawyer on Feb. 15 in Poultney, Vermont, where his parents live, and received permission to search his vehicle. They found a 12-gauge shotgun, ammunition and a notebook, titled, “The Journal of an Active Shooter.” Police also found books on the Columbine shooting, a gas mask, thumb drives, a digital camera and a video recorder.

“It was very clear that Sawyer had spent time researching school shootings and how he could execute his plan to shoot up (Fair Haven),” Detective Sgt. Todd Williams wrote in the affidavit.

Sawyer waived his Miranda rights and admitted to police that he had been planning to carry out a shooting at the school for about two years. He told police that didn’t have any specific targets but said he wanted, “As many (casualties) as I can get.”

He also wrote in his journal about how he planned to deal with the armed school resource officer stationed at the high school.

“My best plan is to either wait to see if he leaves school grounds or to sneak up on him and shoot him in the head point blank,” he said.

Although Sawyer grew up in Vermont and targeted his former high school in Fair Haven, west of Rutland, he lived most recently in Maine. According to the affidavit, he was sent to Ironwood after he ran away to California during his sophomore year of high school. His father told police that his son suffered from depression and had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but had recently stopped taking medication.

A representative of Ironwood Maine, the treatment facility, could neither confirm nor deny that Sawyer was a resident there, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects patients’ privacy.

According to information posted on its website, Ironwood Maine was founded in 2006 by Marion and Rod Rodrigue, who were struggling to find a program for their own daughter. The couple sold the facility in 2011 to Wesley and Susan Horton of Duxbury, Massachusetts, who continued the founders’ mission and still own Ironwood today.

The facility is licensed to serve 45 residents between the ages of 13 and 18. The average length of stay is 9 to 12 months.

McDevitt told the Poughkeepsie Journal this week that Ironwood was a farmlike setting where residents had daily chores and sometimes cooked meals over an open fire.

Sawyer told police he left Maine on Feb. 9, but it’s not clear if he was still staying at Ironwood then.

Barbara Finkelstein, president of York County Community College, confirmed Wednesday that Sawyer was enrolled in one course there this semester but had withdrawn this month. She also shared an email she sent Tuesday to students informing them of Sawyer’s arrest in Vermont.

“We have no indication that anyone in our community was at risk during the time the student was enrolled with us,” Finkelstein wrote.

Sawyer wrote in his journal that he attempted to purchase a shotgun at a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Maine but was denied because he did not have a Maine driver’s license.

He was later able to purchase the same gun in Vermont and was making plans to purchase additional weapons, including an AR-15 – the semiautomatic rifle that has been used in numerous school shootings and is now at the center of the latest gun-control debate.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]ssherald.com

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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