On February 14, just two months after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, an 18-year-old in Texas named Justin Carter was arrested.
Carter, an avid gamer, got into a spat with a fellow League of Legends player on Facebook. After being provoked and told he was “messed up in the head,” Carter fired back with a startling comment:
I think Ima shoot up a kindergarten / And watch the blood of the innocent rain down/ And eat the beating heart of one of them.
Carter’s father says the next messages Carter wrote included “lol” and “jk” to imply he was kidding.
“It’s incredibly inappropriate when you take it out of context for sure,” Jack Carter, Justin’s father, tells NPR. “It was a sarcastic remark in response to an insult.”
A woman in Canada was alarmed by Carter’s questionable comment and notified authorities. Carter’s home was then searched (although no weapons were found) and his computer was taken. The teen spent his 19th birthday in jail; this is the first time he’s been incarcerated.
A jury in Texas’ Comal County charged the teenager with making a terroristic threat in April, which is considered a third-degree felony. That means Carter could spend 10 years in jail for the Facebook comment. The judge also gave him an unusually high bond, $500,000, which his family can’t afford to pay.
Carter’s trial is beginning this month but in the meantime, the teen’s father says his son has fallen into a deep depression.
“He’s very depressed, he’s very scared,” Jack Carter said, telling CNN that his son feels like he’ll never leave prison. “He’s pretty much lost all hope.”
An in an interview with NPR, Jack Carter painted a more gruesome picture of his son’s experience in jail. He says his son has had “concussions, black eyes” and “moved four times for his own protection.” He also says his son is nude in solitary confinement because of his depression.
Carter’s mother Jennifer posted the situation on Change.org and acquired nearly 100,000 signatures in support of her son’s release. In addition, the Carter family has found a pro-bono lawyer to take on the case.
The trial will come down to this:
In a social media world where younger generations are learning to speak now and think later, how far does freedom of speech really go?
While Carter’s father understands why authorities had to investigate his son, he doesn’t feel an impulsive comment on Facebook should be this detrimental.
“He says he’s really sorry. He just totally got caught up in the moment of the argument and didn’t really think about the implications,” Jack Carter tells NPR. “I miss my son. He’s my friend. And I just want him out. Nobody’s life should be ruined because of a sarcastic comment.”
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