Mother of B'ville student accused of plotting mass shooting says he did not seriously plan violence
BY ZACK STOYCOFF World Staff Writer
Sunday, December 23, 2012
12/23/12 at 7:43 AM
BARTLESVILLE - The mother of a Bartlesville High School student who is accused of plotting a mass school shooting described him as mentally "imbalanced" but said he did not seriously plan violence.
Sammie Eaglebear Chavez, 18, sent his mother a text message two days before his Dec. 14 arrest saying he wanted to "shoot up the school" because he believed that students were talking about him behind his back, she said.
Jessie Chavez said her son has symptoms of possible mental illnesses - including depression, bipolar disorder and multiple personalities - and had been seeing a therapist. She believes that the thought came during a fleeting swing in emotions.
"Deep down, I don't think my son would have done this," she said. "That's not my son. My son laughs and makes jokes. He's always pulling pranks."
After hearing of the shooting rampage that left 28 people dead in Newtown, Conn., on the day of his arrest, Sammie Chavez told his mother in a phone call from the Washington County Jail that he was devastated because people thought he was capable of such an act, she said.
"He said, 'All these babies, mom. Who would do that? How could people think I would do that?' " Jessie Chavez said.
Police allege that Sammie Chavez attempted to recruit other students Dec. 12 to help him lure people into the school's auditorium, where he said he would open fire after chaining the doors and placing bombs to detonate when police arrived.
A court affidavit says Chavez used school computers to research pipe bombs and the Columbine High School mass shooting.
Police later seized a Marlin 99 M1 .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle from his home, as well as journals, notes, drawings, photographs of students cut out of a newspaper, two swords, a set of brass knuckles and marijuana.
He is being held with bail set at $1 million on a charge of planning, attempting or conspiring to perform an act of violence with the intent of causing "serious bodily harm or death to other students."
Jessie Chavez said her son might have gone too far with the thought of retaliating for what he perceived as people talking about him, but she said she is certain that he never intended to follow through.
"I don't say that just because I'm his mother but because of all the experiences we've had," she said. "Nobody knows Sammie like I do."
She said he bought the rifle from a neighbor and never took it outside or had ammunition for it. The pictures of students were in a photo album that her son made for innocent purposes, she said.
In a letter from jail days after his arrest, Sammie Chavez apologized for the ordeal and wrote, "I can't believe people would think I'd actually do that," Jessie Chavez said.
She said her son's long, dark hair, dark clothing and black-painted fingernails drew frequent ridicule from classmates.
Few people know that "he has a big heart" and is intelligent, she said.
However, sudden emotional swings have plagued him in recent years, and Jessie Chavez said he has symptoms of numerous mental illnesses and has recently been cutting himself.
They both see therapists at a mental health clinic, where Jessie Chavez receives treatment for diagnosed mental illnesses that include multiple personality disorder.
When her son sent the text message, she said she showed it to their therapists but had not decided whether to take further action by the time of his arrest.
Mike Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, said it is difficult to diagnose teenagers with mental illnesses because disruptive behavior is often normal and can be influenced greatly by childhood trauma, family life or developmental problems.
Being bullied and feeling lonely or out of place can drive at-risk teens to extreme behavior, sometimes as a way to retaliate against peers or gain attention, he said.
Students and parents contacted by the Tulsa World said they do not know Sammie Chavez well but that he seemed to have few friends aside from his girlfriend, with whom he was often seen.
His mother said he and his girlfriend had recently been fighting.
Facebook posts and court filings indicate that he has frequently moved among a shelter, his mother's house and relatives' downtown apartment.
Bartlesville school spokesman Chris Tanea declined to comment on whether teachers noticed any behavioral changes or risk factors in Sammie Chavez before the arrest.
"Something's not right (with him)," his mother said. "Prison's not going to help. I just hope and pray he gets the help that he needs."
In the meantime, she added, "I also have to be an understanding mother and love him unconditionally regardless of which way this goes."
Sammie Chavez's first court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 11.
Original Print Headline: Her son is no threat, suspect's mom says
Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486
Sammie Chavez: The 18-year-old is being held on a charge of planning, attempting or conspiring to perform an act of violence.
Jessie Chavez examines an old photograph of her son, Sammie Chavez, who is accused of plotting a mass shooting at Bartlesville High School. ZACK STOYCOFF / Tulsa World