An Albemarle County teenager pleaded guilty Wednesday to making a racist threat online that shut down Charlottesville City Schools for two days.
Joao Pedro Souza Ribeiro, 17, on March 20 threatened an ethnic cleansing and a school shooting, telling white students at Charlottesville High School to stay home. In court, a prosecutor said there was no evidence Ribeiro intended to carry out violence but that the threat disrupted local life and fueled fear.
“The threat was against persons in our community and re-traumatized our community,” Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Samantha Markley said in court. “It instilled fear and shut down education for two days.”
Ribeiro was arrested Friday morning and charged with one felony count of threatening a school and one misdemeanor count of harassment by computer. Ribeiro’s identity was mistakenly released by Charlottesville police earlier this week. Authorities do not otherwise release the names of juveniles who are not charged as adults.
He appeared in Charlottesville Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court after spending several days at a local juvenile detention center.
Ribeiro’s attorney asked to close the hearing because he is a juvenile, but Judge Ronald Morris ruled that, since he was charged with a felony, proceedings would remain open.
In court, Ribeiro said he is a senior in high school. According to statements Markley made in court, Ribeiro posted the threat while in study hall to the online forum 4chan, parts of which are frequented by white supremacists.
“He stated his intention was to post it as a joke,” Markley said. “He stated, quote, ‘I didn’t even think. I was just bored in my study hall class.’”
Markley said Ribeiro deleted the message after posting it, but it had already been seen, commented upon and directed to the attention of law enforcement.
“The content of the message led officers to believe there was imminent danger to multiple persons,” Markley said.
Markley said local police and FBI investigators traced the message to Ribeiro. When law enforcement detained and questioned him, she said he quickly admitted to posting the message.
Police found no weapons at Ribeiro’s house and found no evidence that he actually planned to carry out the threat, Markley said. They found no evidence that he has associated with white supremacist groups. Instead, she said, it appeared he had simply made the post in order to seek attention and cause disruption.
Ribeiro’s attorney disputed that understanding of his intentions, saying he had merely posted the message as a joke. She said he was not a danger to the public and had never been in trouble before.
The judge, after making sure that Ribeiro and his parents, whose first language is Portuguese, understood the proceedings, found Ribeiro guilty. Ribeiro spoke for himself in English, but a translator was provided for his parents.
Ribeiro has no previous convictions, authorities said.
A disposition hearing, where a judge will determine a sentence, is scheduled for April 24. Morris ruled that Ribeiro must remain in custody until that hearing.
In another incident, Albemarle County police arrested a teen at midnight Friday for a social media threat that referenced Albemarle High School. That teen was charged with one felony count of making threats to a school. Police did not identify the teen arrested in the Albemarle threat.
County police said last week that they are working to determine if the threats were connected.