Yeager released from prison

By on June 15, 2016
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Photos by Alan Johnson

DA reduces two felony charges to misdemeanors and lowers $1 million bail to $100,000 

 

by Patrick Burns

The 18-year-old jailed and charged with making threats upon Manheim Central’s graduation ceremony was in court Tuesday, four days after his senior classmates received their diplomas.

Colton Yeager, who made the threatening remarks to a classmate during graduation rehearsal, was released from Lancaster County Prison Tuesday as he waived a preliminary hearing.

A pair of felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors and District Judge Scott E. Albert reduced Yeager’s initial $1 million bail to a $100,000 unsecured amount.

The actions of Yeager, who turned 18 only three months ago and has no criminal record, fueled heated debate on social media where friends created a hashtag #FreeColton.

Yeager supporters say he made a stupid joke and was not serious while others urged he be severely prosecuted.

Brett Hambright, from the Lancaster County District Attorney’s office, explained how prosecutors made their case against Yeager.

“The relevant statements were made just hours before a graduation ceremony where thousands were expected to attend,” Hambright. “This prompted a near immediate decision by the police on a postponement of the ceremony and criminal charges, to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Hambright said the DA’s office always re-examination cases, and after discussing the matter with the police Tuesday, “it was appropriate to reduce the charges to one lower degree in exchange for the waiver of the hearing.”

“This doesn’t make the case any less disturbing; it is a serious matter,” he said. “However, our duty is to apply the provable facts to the current law and it is not unusual to change charges as more information and/or circumstances are developed and shared with us.”

Yeager was charged Thursday after making statements about the 1999 Columbine school shootings at a graduation practice June 9.

His threats caused an evacuation and search of the graduation site, Lancaster County Bible Church on Mount Joy Road, and the postponement of the June 9 graduation ceremony.

The ceremony was rescheduled for June 10 and was held at the high school football stadium.

Manheim Borough Police Chief Joseph Stauffer said after a thorough investigation, no plot or plan of violence was discovered and they were comfortable having ceremonies Friday night.

Manheim Central School District and the Manheim Borough Police Department postponed the graduation ceremony.

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Photo by Alan Johnson

“Statements made by students referencing school shootings will always be taken very seriously with the highest regard for the student body and school staff, Stauffer said in a release.

“References to school shootings in any school environment are threats, whether spoken jokingly or not,” he noted.

Charges were filed after School Resource Officer Adam Webb and Detective Ryan Yarnell conducted an investigation.

Yeager was charged with two felony counts of terroristic threats June 10. District Judge Bruce Roth read the criminal complaint stating the Manheim Central senior threatened to ‘shoot up graduation’ Columbine-style, and set bail at $1 million, which wasn’t posted.

The student who overheard Yeager making statements about the shootings asked what he was talking about.

The student told Yeager, “If you are going to shoot up graduation tonight, don’t shoot me.”

Yeager replied, “No promises.”

The student recalled a conversation in May when Yeager referred to himself as Eric Harris, one of the Columbine shooters.

In an interview with police, Yeager admitted to making the statements, police said.

Hambright noted that in the end things worked out.

“The most important thing is, the graduation ceremony was held and no one was hurt,” he said. “Manheim Borough police are in agreement with the charge reduction and will continue to work with our office as the case progresses.”

Patrick Burns is a social media editor and staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

 

 

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