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Autistic NI teenager 'threatened US principal'

By Michael Donnelly

Published 15/06/2016

Ben Megarry at an earlier court appearance
Ben Megarry at an earlier court appearance

An autistic Co Antrim student who phoned Columbine High School on the 13th anniversary of the deadliest high school shooting in US history told the principal that he was going to kill him.

Belfast Crown Court heard that in his phone call, 15 year-old Newtownabbey teenager Ben Megarry told school principal Frank DeAngelis he was not only "going to finish" what the two killers had started in April, but that "he would not be so lucky ... and that he was going to die".

Now aged 19, Megarry, from Harmin Park, pleaded guilty to 23 charges in which he made a spate of hoax calls between March and September 2012 to numerous "schools, businesses, public gathering places and airports within the continental United States".

Sentencing was adjourned until later this month to allow Judge Sandra Crawford to review the case.

Prosecutor Peter Magill told the judge that the calls contained "threats were made that bombs and been planted and, or, armed persons were intent on murder".

Earlier, the prosecutor revealed that Megarry had not acted alone, but "often in conjunction with others not before the court". He said it appeared the purpose behind the group calls was to achieve "some form of status" amongst the players, while at the same time to provoke a response from the US authorities which could then be viewed online or TV.

Mr Magill told the court that Megarry's early guilty pleas had resulted from a "lengthy, costly and meticulous investigation" by local and federal enforcement agencies in the US, Interpol and PSNI.

Defence QC Greg Berry said reports indicated that a remorseful and shamed Megarry may not have made the calls, which were part of a prank also involving others, had he been diagnosed as autistic when a schoolboy.

Mr Berry also revealed that Megarry's form of Asperger's syndrome was only uncovered in February 2014.

Mr Berry said this was "the crucial issue in the case" as Megarry had been operating in a bubble, separating fact from fiction, leading him to his bedroom where he would seek the remote company of others, with a desire to impress. Megarry, he said, had expressed, as best he could his remorse and shame and sorrow for what he had done. This was clear from the pre-sentence report which stated that Megarry, given his autism, has a difficulty in fully being able to "articulate and elaborate" his feelings.

Both prosecution and defence lawyers were in agreement and told Judge Crawford that Megarry deserved credit for his guilty pleas and his age at the time, clear record, and more especially, the delay of nearly four years in dealing with the case, should be considered when passing sentence.

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