Two Jessamine County men were sentenced in federal court Friday for using social media to intimidate another person. The harassment came within the context of sending a threat about a school shooting three days after 17 students were killed Parkland, Fla.
Cody T. Ritchey, 19, was sentenced to 27 months and Tristan H. Kelly, 19, was sentenced to 21 months. Each will receive credit for the six months they have been in federal custody.
In June Ritchey and Kelly pleaded guilty to one count of “cyberstalking” to cause emotional distress to a third person who did not know about their actions.
“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Kelly told the judge in open court. “I know what I did was wrong.”
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Ritchey did not make a statement in court.
The two were arrested in February on state charges of terroristic threatening. They allegedly used a photo of a boy with a handgun accompanying text that said “Jessamine County Schools, be ready Monday,” according to Ritchey’s plea agreement.
The threat came three days after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which a former student killed 17 people.
The hoax cost the Jessamine school district in several ways, according to a letter from Jessamine Superintendent Matt Moore filed in the court record.
Some students stayed home that week due to concerns associated with the threat. Teachers spent time in classes addressing student concerns and counselors scheduled multiple session with students.
Schools generate revenue based on attendance, but the lower attendance in the days after the hoax cost the Jessamine district an estimated $7,500, Moore wrote.
A plea agreement filed in court also said that Ritchey and Kelly used a Snapchat profile to send direct messages to a person identified as a former girlfriend of Ritchey.
Those messages included “send nudes and Ill let you live,” and “you’re the reason im killing everybody make it stop.”
Ritchey understood that those messages “were of a nature that would reasonably be expected to cause substantial emotional distress to K.S.,” the plea agreement says.
“It’s something that caused lasting harm,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Boone.
School shootings earlier this year in Florida and Marshall County led to more threats against schools across the country. Social media posts were used to create fear and anxiety across the country, and one tactic was to make others appear responsible.
U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves dismissed a charge of sending “false information or hoaxes” that was originally lodged against each defendant.
But Reeves told Kelly, “If you continue like this, you’re going to be seeing a lot of people wearing black robes.”