Digital Forensics Led to Charge Against South Burlington Student | Off Message

Digital Forensics Led to Charge Against South Burlington Student


The Rebels scoreboard at South Burlington High School - MOLLY WALSH/SEVEN DAYS
  • Molly Walsh/Seven Days
  • The Rebels scoreboard at South Burlington High School
The student accused of making death threats against South Burlington students and teachers posted news stories about the turmoil on his Facebook page as the drama was unfolding.

He also allegedly put his own name on the "murder list" that was issued with the threats via email and in a video.

Josiah Leach, 18, was arrested Friday night on a federal charge, ending a week of school lockdowns and a district-wide school closure Friday.

He was in jail awaiting arraignment Monday in federal court on a felony charge of knowingly transmitting a threat via interstate commerce. Leach is a senior at South Burlington High School.

 As Leach was allegedly crafting the threats, he also appears to have been posting articles about them on his Facebook page, where he goes by Jojo Leach.

On Wednesday, the same day students at South Burlington High School were on lockdown in response to a threat, Leach's page showed a post linking to a Burlington Free Press story about the incident.

The page also had a post about a story on the threats Tuesday.

His arrest brought relief to the community but raised troubling questions. Leach, who is African American, is accused of making racially charged death threats in a widely circulated video that sent chills through the city.

In the video, the threats are framed as retaliation for the decision to drop the high school's Rebels nickname. The school board made the decision in response to critics who said it has racist associations with the Confederacy and slavery. The decision triggered a divisive debate in the mostly white city and a backlash from people who see the name as a benign tradition.

The threats included an emailed "murder list" of teachers, and also of students, including several who supported dropping the name. A speaker in the video recites the list, and places special emphasis on an African American student outspoken in the effort to retire the name.

On Saturday, South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple said via email that there were no new developments in the case. He has declined to comment on any motive. Whipple does not expect further arrests, he added.

According to the 11-page criminal complaint against Leach, he made eight threats between April 18 and April 21.

He used a school-issued computer and accessed the South Burlington school servers to make some of the threats, states the affidavit for probable cause written by Jennifer Vander Veer, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigations cyber squad.

The threats were made via email, telephone, video and Facebook messages.
The threats escalated as the week wore on, according to the affidavit. The first threat, made Tuesday, was an email sent to six addresses within the South Burlington schools. It stated: "I'm going to kill you and all your students soon at south Burlington high school in Vermont. I'm coming for you."

Another threat, made on Wednesday, was in an email sent to South Burlington school addresses. It stated: "I'm choosing five students in my interest to kill today then I'm killing every teacher who gets this mail. We are armed with knives and guns. We know all exits and side doors and windows. We are coming before 1 p.m. today."

The threats included one made to South Burlington police via Facebook, according to the affidavit.

David Young, superintendent of South Burlington schools, sent a note out to the community Saturday thanking the police for their work.

"We are relieved the case is resolved. The arrest of a student causes sadness in all of us," the message read.

He added: "It is time for our community to heal. This will be an ongoing process that will require a unified effort. We invite you to join us."

See the criminal complaint here:

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