At her sentencing hearing Aug. 11, Sienna Johnson told the judge she is a different person than she was a year and a half ago, when she was arrested for planning a mass murder at Mountain Vista High …
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At her sentencing hearing Aug. 11, Sienna Johnson told the judge she is a different person than she was a year and a half ago, when she was arrested for planning a mass murder at Mountain Vista High School. The 2015 plot was foiled when a tip was sent to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and Johnson and a fellow student were arrested.
"I know what I did was wrong," the now 17-year-old said from the stand, "and I understand the impact I had on the students and families of Mountain Vista."
Johnson was formally sentenced Aug. 11 at a hearing at the Douglas County Courthouse in Castle Rock. Wearing a black shirt and green pants, her long brown hair partially tied up, she sat at a table with her public defender, guardian, father and stepmother. She will serve five years in juvenile detention for conspiracy to commit murder - which does not include the past 18 months that she has been in custody - followed by four years of supervised probation for a menacing charge. The first conviction, a felony, will stay on her record.
Johnson and her co-conspirator, Brooke Higgins, were arrested in December 2015 after Text-A-Tip reported their murder plot against the high school in Highlands Ranch. They were sophomores and 16 at the time. Both were charged as adults in January 2016 with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder with extreme indifference and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder after deliberation.
After months of court hearings, both defendants pleaded guilty to one adult charge and one juvenile charge. The sentences provide maximum security and accountability, as well as an opportunity for rehabilitation, District Attorney George Brauchler said at a June 17 court hearing.
Higgins was sentenced in February to three years in the Division of Youth Corrections - which includes the prior year that she was in custody - followed by four years of probation with mental health treatment. If she successfully completes her probation sentence, she can seal the adult conviction.
Details released during Johnson's the Aug. 11 hearing paint the picture of a friendship fueled by fire. Jason Siers, senior chief deputy for the 18th Judicial District, shared with the courtroom journal entries, photos and message exchanges of the two girls. News reporters and a handful of family members occupied the rows behind him.
"I have finally met the perfect person," read Johnson's diary entry, displayed on a screen in the courtroom. "Someone who is as angry as me, hates humankind as much as me, and someone who's got what it takes to bring Vista down."
Siers showed messages between the two girls over the social media app Snapchat about how to obtain guns and carry out their plan.
"Let's become best friends," a message from Higgins to Johnson says. "Colombine (sic) part 2."
According to Johnson's arrest affidavit, she had been planning a school shooting on her own since September 2015. The affidavit said Johnson viewed Columbine High School shooters who killed 12 people and a teacher in 1999 as gods. She had searched for guns from her phone and purchased a BB gun for practice.
When Higgins brought the idea of a school shooting to Johnson in December 2015, Johnson's fantasy became real, the affidavit says. Johnson created an intricate map of the school that included all exits, the busiest locations and times and information on the school's security, the document says. The two planned to kill themselves after carrying out the attack.
In the end, the girls never obtained guns and no one at Mountain Vista was injured.
"This could've been a horrific - I'll leave it at that," Siers said.
Family members and a psychiatrist testified on behalf of Johnson at the hearing. They commented on her age, lifestyle choices and home life.
Johnson is a "good kid that got dealt a bad hand in life," her father, Steve Johnson, told the court. In her 15 months in custody, she's found religion and has aspirations to join the military or become a paramedic, he said.
Johnson struggled with depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and conduct disorder, said Patricia Westmoreland, a psychiatrist who testified via Skype. She used alcohol and marijuana, which at such a young age alters the brain, Westmoreland said.
"Juvenile brains are different from those of adults," Westmoreland said, "particularly in the areas of risk-taking, decision-making, susceptibility to peer pressure."
District Judge Paul King told Johnson there is a price to pay for her actions, which instilled fear in parents and families of the community.
"Plenty of people have trouble (in their) home life," King said, "and they don't have thoughts of mass murder."
Before she turns 21 years old, Johnson will be re-evaluated by the court to determine whether she is eligible for parole before the end of her sentence. Before her four-year probation begins, she will have drug and alcohol and mental health evaluations. Her probation will include monitored access to her computer and electronics, no drugs or alcohol, no contact with Higgins and no possession of weapons. If she violates her probation, she faces two to six years in prison.
Johnson's outcome allows for treatment in a stable environment and protection of the community, Siers said in a statement following the hearing. Her case sends a message to the community of the seriousness of talking about, planning and agreeing to a mass homicide at a school, said Siers.
He applauded the person who sent a message to Text-A-Tip.
"It worked in this case to prevent something horrific."
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