PITTSBURGH (AP) — A 19-year-old Pennsylvania man faces federal charges over a Facebook post threatening to kill preschool children even after telling investigators he merely has a dark sense of humor and didn’t plan to carry out the threat.
Cale Haer was originally charged Monday by police in his hometown of Johnstown, some 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, with making terroristic threats and disorderly conduct. But the FBI and federal prosecutors took over the case and Haer was jailed Wednesday on a charge of making interstate threats, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Investigators say Haer was chatting on Facebook with another person on Aug. 20 when an unidentified third party saw Haer’s comments and called police.
“I disagree to a point so extreme I’m gonna go blow up a preschool to show my disapproval,” Haer wrote, according to the FBI complaint.
When the other person asked Haer if he was serious, the FBI said he responded: “I’m 100% serious about blowing up a preschool. Just killing dozens of innocent little toddlers. Their screams lull me to sleep. Dreams of little severed arms and legs flying through the air, feeling the blood of young splatter on my face. Knowing I scarred families by killing their pride and joy. Mmmm ....”
A federal magistrate in Johnstown ordered Haer jailed indefinitely as he awaits prosecution. The public defender who appeared with Haer didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
But Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at St. Vincent College, said Haer’s prosecution calls into question a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June.
In Elonis v. United States, the court threw out the conviction of an eastern Pennsylvania man prosecuted after he posted self-styled rap lyrics about killing his estranged wife, attacking law officers and shooting a school.
Civil liberties groups applauded the decision, saying it was needed to make it tougher to prosecute people who made crude comments on social media. But the high court didn’t precisely define when such rants can be prosecuted.
Antkowiak said the court ruled such language may be prosecuted if it’s used “for the purpose of issuing a threat or with knowledge that the communication will be viewed as a threat.”
In the Haer complaint, the FBI said the charge is supported by the Elonis decision because Haer acknowledged that he “could see how the context would alarm readers who do not know him.”
“This is probably going to be a clear test case on this issue,” Antkowiak said.