Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Dermot Shea, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), and Kevin P. Bruen, Acting Superintendent of the New York State Police (“NYSP”), announced that BRENDAN VAUGHAN was sentenced today to 60 months in prison, in connection with threats VAUGHAN made to classmates and law enforcement to carry out a school shooting in Washingtonville, New York. VAUGHAN pled guilty to a three-count Information on December 3, 2019, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith C. McCarthy, and was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Karas.
U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “In the wake of the many recent tragic school shootings committed in our country, parents, school administrators, and students are increasingly alert to the frightening possibility that their community could be next. The defendant callously preyed on those fears in one community with a series of terrifying threats spread out over months, and took steps to act on those threats. Today’s sentencing sends a clear message that making violent threats will merit a serious prison sentence.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “No child should have to live in a society where the simple act of going to school invokes a sense of fear. Unfortunately, for many school-aged children, this has become an all-too-familiar reality. Vaughan’s clear and direct threats to his fellow classmates and others were so egregious that he was ultimately charged and convicted of a federal crime. May this, along with the sentencing he received today, serve as a message to others like him – there are life-changing penalties for this type of behavior.”
State Police Acting Superintendent Kevin P. Bruen said: “I applaud the work done by the State Police and our law enforcement partners on this case, which no doubt saved lives. Threats to our schools and the communities we serve are always taken seriously, and investigated to the fullest. We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to combat and prevent these types of crimes from occurring. Our priority is the safety of all New Yorkers.”
According to the Information, court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:
In May 2018, VAUGHAN, who was then a senior at a high school in Washingtonville, New York, communicated to a number of classmates via a social media chat group that he intended to carry out a school shooting on the final day of school. Even after being visited by law enforcement toward the end of May 2018, VAUGHAN continued his threatening behavior by sending additional threatening messages to a classmate about committing a school shooting and asking that classmate “not to go to the cops.” VAUGHAN also took some preliminary steps toward carrying out such an attack, including drafting a kill list, compiling lists of his “favorite” school shooters, researching “pipe bombs” on the Internet, accessing a website to purchase a firearm, and composing diary entries expressing his desire for imminent “revenge.” VAUGHAN also told a law enforcement officer that he intended to kill a specific classmate.
In August 2018, VAUGHAN sent a number of additional messages on social media in which he threatened an imminent attack in Washingtonville. Specifically, on successive days, VAUGHAN posted:
- a message that said: “I regret nothing,”
- a graphic that included the text “The 845” (that is, the designated area code for Hudson Valley) and a series of 15 gun and bomb emojis,
- a video depicting a red plastic gas container and pool chemicals with the text: “[smiley face emoji] Plans [smiley face emoji] bang.bang,” and,
- immediately following the posting of the pool chemical video, a video of himself in a car in which he was turning the ignition on and clutching the steering wheel.
After VAUGHAN was detained in March 2019, he continued his threatening behavior, compiling another kill list that included classmates, family members, medical personnel, and the FBI agent and Assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to his case.
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In addition to his prison sentence, VAUGHAN, 20, of Campbell Hall, New York, was sentenced to three years of supervised release.
Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the New York City Police Department, the Washingtonville Police Department, the New York State Police, and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
This prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam Adelsberg is in charge of the prosecution.