Former WVU student accused of making terrorist threats testifies

On the second day of his trial, former WVU student Zachary Ryan Johnson took the witness stand and explained that he never meant what he said to be taken as anything other than a joke.
Johnson, who is charged with two counts of making a terroristic threat, admitted he sent a message through Snapchat on Aug. 22, 2018, that said, “I feel like doing a mass shooting.”
He called the move a dumb exaggeration but said everyone in the group was complaining about a test or some homework and he thought he would chime in with what he now realizes was a poorly made joke.
“Absolutely not,” Johnson said in response to Defense Attorney Mark Gaydos’ question if he intended to commit a shooting. “I don’t even own a gun.”
Johnson also denied that he made similar comments the next day in class.
On the first day of trial, former classmate Shelby Hawk testified that she heard the comments while sitting a few rows in front of Johnson.
Emily Longerbeam and Victoria Rutherford, friends and then-classmates of Johnson, both testified they were sitting closer to him than Hawk and they did not hear the alleged comments regarding a mass shooting or getting a gun and killing people.
The jury heard about Johnson’s week leading up to the alleged incidents, which was described as being “absolutely terrible.”
Johnson said he popped a tire and as soon as it was patched, blew a different tire. In an effort to limit wear on a spare tire, he left his car in the parking lot of Kroger at Suncrest Towne Centre, where he worked. He testified he explained this to the night shift manager, but when he returned the next day his car had been towed.
Johnson wanted the grocer to reimburse him for the cost of the tow, but three managers refused in what he told the jury was a “premeditated response” and asked him to leave the property, threatening to call the police if he did not.
The Snapchat message was sent shortly after he paid to get his car from Summer’s Towing, Johnson said.
A video of the Aug. 24, 2018, interview between Lt. Travis Thomas of the WVU Police Department and Johnson was also shown to the jury on Thursday. In that video, Thomas asked if Johnson ever made any kind of statement that might cause someone to fear for their life, to which Johnson said no. Thomas also specifically asked about comments made in or before a class and Johnson said he couldn’t think of anything.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Rob Zak accused Johnson of lying to Thomas for not mentioning the Snapchat message, but Johnson maintained he hadn’t lied. He said he had already forgotten the social media post and was focused on what he might have said in class on Aug. 23 to cause his arrest the next day.
Asked if he agreed that comments about mass shooting should be reported, Johnson told Zak it would depend on how the person who heard the comments felt, who made the comments and whether the comments were meant as a joke or not.
Personally, Johnson would decide on reporting comments about a mass shooting based on those factors, he said.
The trial will continue on Friday.

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