By Dan Colton
for The Beacon
Saying it was just a joke, an 18-year-old Sheboygan high school student pleaded not guilty in court Wednesday after police allege the student said he would “shoot up North High.”
North High School student Eric Larson was charged last week with making terrorist threats during school on Dec. 5, one day after separate social media posts prompted school administrators to alert students and their families.
In one of the posts, dated Dec. 3, a compass was depicted with names of five Wisconsin cities. North High School Resource Officer Tim Anhalt appeared as a witness during Larson’s preliminary hearing Wednesday and said one of those cities was Sheboygan.
Two of the others were Oshkosh and Waukesha, Anhalt said – both sites of high school gun violence on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3.
Prosecutors are not alleging that Larson was involved with the social media posts.
But according to Larson’s attorney, his comments at school Dec. 5 were a joke gone bad.
In court, Larson’s attorney June Spoerl asked the court to dismiss the case, saying Larson had simply made a “stupid joke.” The charge of making a terrorist threat is fulfilled by an intent to cause panic or fear, as defined by state statute, and Spoerl said Larson didn’t intend to create either.
“I don’t believe that’s been shown,” Spoerl said of the intent to cause panic. “…He said it was a stupid, stupid joke.”
Judge Rebecca Persick denied the request, saying the reckless nature of such a joke is sufficient to uphold the charge.
The same defense – it was a “joke” – has now been used in Sheboygan County twice by two individuals since October. On Oct. 31, Aaron Mauer, 22, allegedly posted a social media picture of himself holding an assault rifle while wearing a trench coat. The post was captioned, “Coming to a school near you.”
Mauer was subsequently arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat, but he claimed it was a Halloween joke.
A criminal complaint filed Friday said Larson was at school discussing the recent social media threats. According to the complaint, a teacher said Larson stated something along the lines of “I wish North High would get shot up.”
Following those comments, Anhalt – the school resource officer – was contacted. Larson was brought to the school’s main office to speak with staff.
During that conversation, Larson said he’d made a “bad mistake and meant the comment to be a joke,” the criminal complaint said.
Larson was also charged with misdemeanor bail jumping from a retail theft filed in October. That case remains open. Last summer, he was found guilty of resisting or obstructing an officer.
If found guilty on the new charges, Larson faces up to $20,000 in fines and 4 years, 3 months imprisonment.
On Dec. 3, an Oshkosh West High School resource officer was stabbed before shooting and wounding a knife-wielding student. The previous day, a 17-year-old was shot and wounded at Waukesha South High School after police said he pointed a gun at officers inside a classroom.
High schools nationwide now routinely hold active-shooter drills to prepare students for armed assailants.
Larson’s attorney requested a jury trial. He is being held at the Sheboygan County Detention Center with cash bond set at $25,000.