Former NMSU Student Pleads Guilty to Hindering Investigation into Internet Threats to Shoot Up the University
Plea Agreement Requires Defendant to Pay $77,934.00 in Restitution to Cover NMSU’s Costs in Responding to Threat
ALBUQUERQUE – Zachary Milton Hess, 19, of Las Cruces, N.M., pleaded guilty this afternoon in federal court to a misdemeanor information charging him with being an accessary after the fact to the interstate transmission of an extortionate communication. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Hess will be sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay $77,934.00 in restitution.
Hess was arrested on Aug. 25, 2014, on a criminal complaint charging him with sending in interstate commerce a threat to shoot up his college campus. According to the criminal complaint, on May 27, 2014, an individual anonymously threatened to “shoot [his] college campus up in 3 days” and identified his college as New Mexico State University (NMSU) while “chatting” on an Internet website. The threat subsequently was posted on to NMSU’s Facebook page and was passed onto law enforcement, including the FBI. The FBI’s investigation revealed that the IP Address from which the threat was posted was subscribed to Hess’s residence. An examination of Hess’s computer revealed that it had been used to visit the website on the same date and time on which the threat was posted.
The criminal complaint states that NMSU expended significant resources in responding to the threat. Among other things, NMSU officials informed approximately 18,774 students, facility, staff and private citizens about the anonymous threat; advised students, faculty and staff to depart the campus; and shut down its new student registration process. NMSU lost approximately 1,000 staff hours in responding to the threat.
During today’s proceedings, Hess pled guilty to being an accessory after the fact to the interstate transmission of an extortionate communication. In his plea agreement, Hess admitted that on May 29, 2014, he knew that communications had been sent over the Internet making threats to shoot up NMSU and that he assisted in hindering the investigation into the threats.
Hess remains on conditions of release pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be schedule. The plea agreement requires that Hess be sentenced to five years of probation and to pay $77,934.00 in restitution to cover the costs of NMSU’s response to the threats.
This case was investigated by the Las Cruces office of the FBI and the NMSU Police Department, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa A. Lizarraga of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office.