Two Jessamine County teens pleaded guilty in federal court Friday, admitting they posed as someone else to send via Snapchat a threat aimed at district schools.
Cody T. Ritchey, 19, and Tristan H. Kelly, 18, pleaded guilty to one count of "cyberstalking" to cause emotional distress to another person.
The two were arrested in February on state charges of terroristic threatening. They used a photo of a boy with a handgun accompanying text that said “Jessamine County Schools, be ready Monday,” according to their plea agreements.
The agreements say that on Feb. 17, Ritchey and Kelly created a Snapchat profile in the name of an individual identified in court documents as “D.C.”
Ritchey and Kelly then used that profile to create and publish a series of Snapchat posts suggesting that D.C. would attack one or more Jessamine County schools with firearms.
The posts included a picture of two assault rifles with the caption “Which one should I use Monday Jessamine County?” with a separate picture of D.C. pointing a handgun at the camera with the caption “Jessamine County Schools, be ready Monday.”
Additional posts included one that said “im getting more than 17 on god,” which was a reference to the mass shooting that had happened three days earlier at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which a former student killed 17 people.
The above statements were distributed to other people in Jessamine County, the agreement says.
Ritchey and Kelly used the D.C. profile to send a Snapchat friend request to someone identified only as “K.S.” in court documents. Ritchey had had a prior relationship with the person, the plea agreement says.
When K.S. accepted the friend request, Ritchey and Kelly then used the D.C. profile to send a series of Snapchat direct messages to K.S.
"She happened to be one of the people who responded back" to the messages, Kelly said in court Friday.
Those messages included the statements “yall a bunch of bullys,” “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 said. “Furthermore, the messages did place K.S. in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.”
Mary Ann Leichty, who formerly lived in Parkland, Fla., where the mass shooting occurred, said Ritchey’s conduct was due to "immaturity and bad judgment."
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, and one tactic was to make others appear responsible.
The government will ask that a second count charging Ritchey and Kelly with sending “false information or hoaxes” be dismissed at final sentencing, according to the plea agreements.
Ritchey and Kelly each face a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. The actual sentence imposed might be less.
U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves scheduled final sentencings for Sept. 28 in Lexington.