Trial begins for man accused of making terroristic threats at WVU

The trial for a former WVU student who is accused of saying he wanted to commit a mass shooting began in Monongalia County Circuit Court on Wednesday.
In his opening statement, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Rob Zak told the jury that at the end of Zachary Ryan Johnson’s trial, it would be up to them to do something, just like his classmates who saw something or heard something and said something about it.
He was echoing a Department of Homeland Security slogan about reporting possible terrorist activity.
Johnson was indicted on two counts of making a terroristic threat by the May 2019 grand jury.
Nicholas Campbell, then a friend and classmate of Johnson’s testified, “It was just a Snapchat of his face and the caption said something about a mass murder spree.”
The picture was sent to a group composed of most but not all of WVU’s 2020 dental hygiene class.
He said there was no context to the snap and that he couldn’t remember anyone responding.
Brittani Stephenson’s testimony about the Aug. 22 snap closely mirrored Campbell’s.
Both witnesses said they noticed changes in Johnson’s behavior that week.
The dental hygiene program is small, a little over 20 people, and the students all take the same classes and know each other well, Stephenson said.
Campbell said he thought Johnson was a “pretty chill guy.” Stephenson said he was normally nice, friendly and outgoing.
Campbell was one of four students who made an unscheduled stop at the office of Chair and Director for WVU’s Department of Dental Hygiene Amy Funk on Aug. 23 to express concern about Johnson’s behavior.
The group told her Johnson was getting in trouble in class, had missed a class — which was unusual for him — and hadn’t scheduled patients, Funk testified. She said faculty members told her about the patients and missed class earlier in the day.
Prior to Campbell and the other students approaching Funk about Johnson, Stephenson, the class representative, also scheduled a meeting about Johnson’s behavior with Funk. In the meeting she brought up her concerns but Funk said she didn’t remember Snapchat being mentioned.
Funk told Defense Attorney Mark Gaydos that after meeting with Stephenson, Campbell and Johnson’s other friends she planned to speak with Johnson the next day, find out what was wrong and then get him help to fix it.
That changed after her next appointment with Shelby Hawk, another of Johnson’s classmates.
Before the 10 a.m. pathology class Hawk and Johnson attended, she heard him say something along the lines of, “I honestly feel like doing a mass shooting,” and a few seconds later, a comment about going home, getting his gun, and killing everyone, she said.
Hawk described his tone as cold and serious.
“I was worried that he was not in his right frame of mind,” said Hawk, who also noticed Johnson’s behavior changes. “He wasn’t himself.”
Gaydos asked why, if Hawk was scared like she testified, she didn’t go to Funk earlier, rather than waiting until the day’s classes were over.
Hawk said she thought about telling someone but didn’t want to get Johnson in trouble if he didn’t mean it and she tried really hard to tell herself she knew him and he wouldn’t do it.
“But I couldn’t in good conscience not go forward,” she said. If it really did happen and she didn’t report it, the shooting would be on her.
After Hawk told Funk what she heard, Funk said she did what she was trained to do and passed the information on to the WVU Police Department.
Gaydos did not offer an opening statement on Wednesday. He said he would make it when he presents Johnson’s defense.
The trial will resume with another witness for the prosecution on Thursday.

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