Crime

‘I don’t like violence.’ First interview with Dunbar threat suspect played at trial

Timothy Felker
Timothy Felker Fayette County Detention Center

A Lexington police sergeant who was there when an AR-15 was found in the bedroom of a Paul Laurence Dunbar High School senior in 2018 testified in court Tuesday that the ammunition the accused owned was military grade.

Timothy Felker, who was 18 when he was charged with second-degree terroristic threatening, is accused of saying he would “shoot up” the school and making threats to individual students, according to police and court records. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison.

Lexington police Sgt. Daniel Burnett testified that the ammunition in Felker’s room was “not hunting ammunition.” Burnett was one of several witnesses, including students and school administrators, who testified Tuesday at the second day of Felker’s trial.

After receiving multiple tips about Felker making threatening comments, Principal Betsy Rains contacted Lawrence Weathers, who was the director of Fayette County Public Schools law enforcement at the time. Rains testified Tuesday at the second day of Felker’s trial that she had a feeling something was not right.

Weathers, who is now the chief of the Lexington Police Department, testified Tuesday that he called Lexington police the day he was made aware of the threats.

That day, Feb. 17, 2018, Burnett and another detective went to visit Felker’s mother at their home less than a mile from the high school.

Burnett testified that when Felker’s mother opened the door, she said, “It’s about the gun, isn’t it?”

Felker’s mother told the investigators that he was in Chicago for a play and would not be home until a few days later.

After a discussion about what was happening, Felker’s mother agreed to let Burnett and the detective take the gun. Burnett also said that Felker’s mother expressed distaste for the gun.

She led them upstairs to Felker’s bedroom, where they found the gun in a soft case, a box of about 450 rounds of ammunition, a gun cleaning kit and a speed loader. The gun was not loaded, Burnett said Tuesday.

Burnett, who works in the Lexington Police Department’s intelligence unit and served in the Army, said he would consider the type of ammunition found in Felker’s room to be military grade. The ammunition had a “full metal jacket” and was designed to pierce things like light body armor, Burnett said.

Burnett also said that the 30-round magazine found with the gun was military grade. The speed loader found in Felker’s room is often given with the purchase of bulk ammunition like what was found in Felker’s room, Burnett said.

When Felker’s plane from Chicago landed a few days later, Burnett was among several law enforcement officers waiting at the Blue Grass Airport terminal. Burnett said Felker was visibly surprised when he saw the investigators waiting for him.

Burnett, a Lexington detective, an FBI agent and others were all present when Felker was taken into an airport conference room to be interviewed.

Burnett said Felker was breathing heavily when he was taken into the conference room, and did not want to make small talk with the investigators. In a recording of the interview played in court Tuesday, Felker could be heard asking the investigators, “Can we just get to business please?”

Throughout the interview, which Burnett said lasted about an hour, Felker’s stance on whether he’d made threatening statements changed. In the beginning, he said he would never threaten to shoot someone or shoot up the school.

The tips of the threats and the interview were not long after the school shootings in Marshall County and Parkland, Fla.

“I don’t like violence,” Felker said in the interview. “I just feel bad for kids who have to go through that stuff.”

But as the interview went on and detectives continued to question him, Felker spoke about his depression, suicidal thoughts and past threats of violence. Felker said he’d probably talked about shooting individuals or the school in the past, but that his “heart had changed.”

Initially in the interview, Felker had said he’d not made threatening statements in the past year, but the most recent threats he could recall gradually became more recent. Burnett testified in court that it was difficult for the investigators to get Felker to say when his most recent threatening statements were, but that they believed they confirmed they’d happened as recently as October 2017.

A student who would later testify Tuesday said she recalled threats made by Felker as recently as January 2018. The distinction is important, because Felker turned 18 during October of 2017.

Felker said he bought the AR-15 from Buds Gun Shop in Lexington. He used $500 in cash his mother had given him to get a new tattoo, Burnett said.

Two anonymous tips were made about Felker to the school after he posted a picture of the gun on Instagram, according to testimony. A parent had also emailed a school counselor to ask questions about the situation.

In the February 2018 interview at the airport, Felker said he regretted making the post, and that he’d taken the picture after shooting at a gun range.

When investigators asked Felker why he bought the gun in the first place, Felker said he wanted to be able to protect his home and his mother.

Felker also told the investigators that he had struggled with depression on and off since freshman year, and that he had been badly bullied by his peers. He said that in his junior year he’d had 100 friends, and his senior year he had maybe five.

Felker said that he’d previously had violent thoughts and wanted to be a fighter or a boxer, but that changed. He said he no longer had violent thoughts or made threats, but that he was still hated and bullied.

“This year I’m trying to hold myself together,” Felker said in the recorded 2018 interview. “But sometimes people won’t let you, they’ll push you and push you to do something you don’t want to do.”

After the interview at the airport, investigators took Felker to Eastern State Hospital for a mental evaluation. He was charged with second-degree terroristic threatening when he was released from the hospital.

After his arrest, Felker bonded out of jail. Burnett said during his testimony Tuesday that, legally, Felker could have bought another firearm after being released from jail on bond.

Several students who attended Dunbar with Felker also testified Tuesday. One juvenile, whose name is not being disclosed because she is a minor, said that Felker seemed like a typical teenager.

While at Dunbar, Felker was loud, arrogant and had a dark sense of humor, said the juvenile. She also said he was sometimes a little depressed. But the student also said that a lot of students right now have dark senses of humor and depression.

The student who testified said she was around Felker when he’d made comments about shooting up the school and targeting individuals. She said the comments had gone on for a long time, but that in the weeks leading up to anonymous complaints being registered the tone had become more threatening.

The content of Felker’s comments had more or less stayed the same, but his new tone and the situations in which he’d made the comments where what made her nervous, she said. She and other students also said they saw Felker’s Instagram post with the AR-15 and knew he owned the gun.

During opening statements on Monday, Felker’s defense attorneys argued that none of Felker’s comments were serious, and that his classmates knew he was joking.

Felker’s trial will continue Wednesday.

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