School officials in York have launched an investigation after the parent of a high school student told them Wednesday the Muslim teen, who admitted to wanting to join the Islamic State and was being lured into a plot to kill American soldiers, had ammunition at the school in the fall of 2014.
The 16-year-old, an American citizen of Syrian heritage, was sentenced Tuesday to juvenile prison until he turns 21 after pleading guilty to a charge of being a minor in possession of a handgun. The investigation by York police and federal agents, which started in February, uncovered the teen’s radical leanings and connection to an alleged Muslim militant from North Carolina.
The Herald has not named the teen because he is a juvenile.
However, Rosa Peeler, the parent of another York Comprehensive High School student, said after reading about the teen’s sentencing in The Herald that she knew who the teen was because she had reported his having ammunition on school grounds last year. Possession of ammunition on school grounds is illegal under the S.C. Safe Schools Act.
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Peeler said other parents and students from the school had heard of the teen’s talking publicly about his radical beliefs.
“I reported this last year, and it should have been handled and it wasn’t,” Peeler told The Herald on Thursday. “I told them last year. I am upset.”
Peeler talked to school officials Wednesday about the September incident, during which she said the teen showed Peeler’s son the bullets outside the York Comprehensive High football stadium. Peeler immediately told a person she believed to be a school employee about the incident, she said, and that employee confronted the teen about the ammunition.
The next day, Peeler said, the teen said the bullets were ammunition for deer hunting, and no action was taken.
“And now we find out that this teenager wanted to join ISIS and was convicted of weapon possession,” Peeler said. “Several parents are concerned.”
York Superintendent Vernon Prosser confirmed Thursday that school administrators have opened an investigation into Peeler’s allegation. It will be difficult to determine who the adult was Peeler talked to last year, he said, or if that person was an employee or a volunteer.
Many people who are not school employees help out at school functions, Prosser said, so it might be impossible to find out whom the parent told.
If the person Peeler told about the ammunition had been a school administrator, Prosser said, he’s confident the situation would have been addressed immediately.
“We do not know who she told,” Prosser said. “We will look into it, and we will deal with it if we are able to find out what happened.”
York Police Lt. Rich Caddell said the police department has no record indicating that police were told about the incident Peeler reported. Police Chief Andy Robinson said Wednesday was the first time he or anyone in his department heard about the incident.
“If we had known about this allegation, we would have acted,” Robinson said.
FBI agents asked York police not to release information to the public about the investigation into the teen starting in February because of the ongoing investigation, Robinson said. Robinson and his top officers discussed whether to tell the public, he said, and agreed not to disclose the connections to ISIS or the plot in the interest of public safety.
The FBI and federal prosecutors have declined to comment on whether the teen – or the alleged North Carolina extremist the teen met and was planning to wage “jihad” with – are under federal investigation or indictment.
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065