A Fortuna teen who allegedly sent gory messages to members of a youth church group has been held to answer on charges of making threats of death or great bodily injury and terrorizing or obstructing the exercise of religion.
Judge Larry Killoran issued the ruling Tuesday after listening to testimony in the preliminary hearing of 18-year-old Sean Michael Allman, who sent the messages on June 13 and 14 to eight members of a high school-aged group that planned to visit Humboldt County and camp at HSU.
According to testimony in the hearing, Allman was obsessed with mass shootings and the people who committed them, particularly Eric Harris, one of two teens responsible for the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. Allman also seemed fascinated with shootings at churches.
None of the eight teens who received the messages contacted law enforcement, but one girl did reach out to the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California, the umbrella organization for 66 Episcopal churches in the north state.
“She was concerned she had received some text messages,” said Katherine Braak, director of operations for the diocese. Braak, the first witness called by Deputy District Attorney Whitney Timm, said “some of the youth had received very dangerous and threatening texts.”
When Braak looked at the texts, she saw “vivid images of people bloodied on the ground, and a gun being pulled up and somebody’s head being blown off.”
Allman had participated in the annual Episcopal campout at Sonoma State University in 2018, and some of the kids who interacted with him at that time were concerned.
“He was keeping to himself,” Braak testified. “He was fascinated with mass murders. He talked about creating an animated video of mass murders.”
Allman’s mother told law enforcement that her son claimed the text messages were just a joke. But she told him to go to the Fortuna Police Department, which he did.
“He advised me that he belonged to a text group,” FPD Officer Lindsey Frank testified. The text group consisted of Allman and eight other teens, all of whom he met during the retreat in 2018.
“He felt that he was not respected in that group and he didn’t agree with their conservative views,” Frank said. “He wanted to upset them so he researched and found pictures.”
Frank confirmed, as did other witnesses, that Allman had no access to weapons.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Ben Okin, Frank said Allman told her he never planned to attend another youth session “or I wouldn’t have sent (the texts.)”
Okin also pointed out that Frank allegedly told Allman that as long as he didn’t send any more texts, “this might be the end of it.”
Humboldt State University Police Sgt. John Packer testified he communicated with most of the people who had been texted. Some weren’t that concerned, others were upset to the point of having nightmares.
Packer said he researched videos Allman had stored in his You Tube account.
“There were three videos on how to purchase guns on the Dark Web.”
Under cross-examination, Packer said he couldn’t say whether Allman had watched those videos, and he acknowledged there was no evidence of Allman buying a firearm.
HSU Officer James Martin was assigned to investigate notebooks and journals Allman kept. Martin said there were references to Bitcoin, a currency sometimes used to buy products on the Dark Web.
Allman also noted in one of the journals that he had now lived longer than Eric Harris, the Columbine killer. And he said he would like to “cash out my Bitcoin and buy Eric’s load-out.”
According to Martin, “load-out’ is another reference to Columbine.
Allman had also made a list of what one would need to commit a mass shooting, including a trench coat.
“By the list of items that one would want to wear and purchase,” Martin said, “I considered it pre-planning.”
Allman was arrested several days after the texts were sent and remained in jail for weeks until his bail was lowered from $1 million to $50,000. The latter amount confirms to the bail schedule for his alleged offenses.
Allman’s phone calls were recorded while he was in jail. In one call he asks the other person to sell off his Bitcoin. In a second call with his mother and grandmother, his mother reminds him to take his medication.
“Why do I need to take it?”
“Because your OCD is out of control.”
“OCD had nothing to do with me harassing those people.”
In closing arguments, prosecutor Timm asked the judge to hold Allman to answer, noting that people who received Allman’s texts “were in fear for their safety.”
Okin said Allman did send disturbing images, but he didn’t write anything to those who received them.
“There’s no evidence these were meant as a threat,” Okin argued. “All of the evidence is different people reacted differently. The reaction was all over the map because there was no threat.”
Okin said there were no accompanying words, and “not one person reported it as a threat.” The appropriate charge, Okin said, would be harrassing or annoying someone.
Timm responded that the images constituted a threat because they were “so disturbing.” Also, she said, although Alllman didn’t write anything, three of the images already contained words.
For example, one of the photos shows a man’s head being blown away, his cap flying off when he is hit.
The words accompanying the image: “Hats off!”
Another image asks what you would do if you could do anything you wanted. The person pictured is about to enter a church and commit murder.
Judge Killoran, in making his ruling, held up the graphic photos that were submitted as evidence.
“The photos themselves are symbols,” he said. “But these photos have words.”
Killoran refused to grant a request that Allman be allowed to attend his local Episcopal church, although the judge told church members in the courtroom audience they are free to associate with Allman outside of church.
Arraignment on the charges is set for Jan. 21. A trial date could be set at that time.
- HSU: Fortuna Man Arrested for ‘Specific Threats of Violence’ to a Group Scheduled to Visit Campus
- Fortuna Teenager Accused of Terror Threats Against Church Youth Group Pleads Not Guilty; Bail Lowered to $50,000
- TODAY in COURT: Hearings Postponed For Fernbridge Hit-and-Run Suspect, Man Accused of Threatening Church Group Visiting HSU