Teen who planned school attack goes home
A 16-year-old boy who sawed off his hunting shotgun, built an illegal bomb out of fireworks and hatched a plan to "kill everyone" at Norwich Technical High School was released from prison Friday.
Kyle Zahacefski of Colchester spent eight months at a state psychiatric facility for young people and two months in prison following his October 2009 arrest. On Friday, after his parents, attorney and counselor spoke of his progress and argued for a suspended prison sentence, Superior Court Judge Susan B. Handy said she would "take a chance" on Zahacefski.
Zahacefski had pleaded guilty to possession of a sawed-off shotgun and manufacturing an illegal bomb. The judge handed down the sentence of 10 years in prison, fully suspended, and five years' probation after asking Zahacefski, who hatched his plan after a girl he liked "blew him off," would deal with stressful situations in the future.
"I'm going to talk to my parents, my therapist," Zahacefski responded. "The medication helps me."
The judge imposed five years of probation with a "zero tolerance" policy for violations. He is required to receive counseling through a partial hospitalization plan at Natchaug Hospital, continue taking his medication - he's on the anti-psychotic drug Abilify - and have no access to weapons.
Zahacefski had sawed off a 20-gauge shotgun that his grandfather had given him for hunting. Defense attorney Mark Balaban said Zahacefski was angry one night and sat on his bed one day and sawed off the gun's barrel. He said Zahacefski also used fireworks left over from the Fourth of July to construct a "large firecracker." Police said the homemade explosive was a bomb capable of functioning.
The boy's father, Johnny Zahacefski, also had guns in the house. The judge asked the father to assure her the guns have been removed. The father said they were gone "indefinitely" and there was no need to bring them back.
Prosecutor John P. Gravalec-Pannone had asked the judge to impose a prison sentence up to 18 months. He called the case a scary one that required the court to strike an appropriate balance between returning a young person to society and protecting the public.
"When it all boils down, we're really at the mercy of what's going on in the head of this defendant," said Pannone.
Pannone said "the ultimate question that remains unanswered," is whether there would have been a Columbine-like event at Norwich Tech had a friend of Zahacefski's not come forward in October 2009 and school authorities and state police not acted in a quick manner.
According to a police affidavit that led to his arrest, he had sent a classmate a text message with a picture of a sawed-off shotgun and bomb. He told a classmate to stop taking the bus, "because it's going to happen soon," and talked of how he would "look at people's families that he just killed and would smile and laugh at them while he was on trial." The classmate went to school officials and they contacted police, who searched Zahacefski's home and found the shotgun and illegal bomb in his dresser.
His mother, Suzanne Zahacefski, told state police that Kyle was a quiet kid who kept to himself, made friends easily and was never bullied. On Friday, she told the judge she and her husband were prepared to help their son. She said they have attended family therapy and group therapy and opened up their lives to the Department of Families and Children.
"We're going to keep an eye on him, obviously," the mother said, "but he's a good kid."
Zahacefski has been expelled from Norwich Tech. His attorney said he is planning to enroll at Bacon Academy for his senior year and go on to community college. The judge said Zahacefski must inform any school he enrolls in of his conviction, "So they can make a determination of whether they want you to matriculate in their program."
Once the judge imposed the sentence, judicial marshals removed Zahacefski's leg chains and he walked out of the courtroom to his waiting parents.