A white 17-year-old girl was sentenced to four years in juvenile detention this week in Georgia after plotting to attack a Black Gainesville church in 2019.
The teen pleaded guilty to attempted murder as part of a plea agreement, reports the Gainesville Times. She will remain on probation for 10 years and must stay at least 150 feet away from any African Methodist Episcopal church in the state of Georgia. Overall, the sentence requires probation, counseling, and four years at a Department of Juvenile Justice facility.
The teen was arrested in November last year after planning to attack Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Gainesville.
Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish told reporters at the time that she had intended to stab parishioners.
“She had procured some butcher knives, kitchen knives, to do the attack with and had actually scouted out the location,” Parrish said last year. “She had written down how she wanted to do it, the best way to do it.”
Investigators say that the teen visited the church several times to both stake out the place and commit the attack, but each time she went, there was no one there.
She was flagged to authorities after her Gainesville High School classmates alerted counselors about a notebook containing detailed plans to commit murder. When school officials searched her backpack, they found a purple-and-white notebook and two T-shirts bearing white supremacist messaging. One T-shirt had “natural selection” written on the front—an allusion to the racist belief that white people are genetically superior to nonwhites—and a “Free Dylann Storm Roof” shirt that had swastikas written on each arm, reports the Gainesville Times.
Roof fatally shot nine Black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. His intention, he wrote in a manifesto, was to start a race war.
The back of the Roof shirt contained more writing, said Assistant District Attorney Julia Greene.
“I’m not crazy I had to do this,” the girl wrote. “I had to do it because somebody had to do something, because Black people are killing white people every day on the streets. What I did is still miniscule [sic] compared to what they’re doing to white people every day. I do consider myself a white supremacist.”
Greene said the first impulse of the school resource officer who discovered the teen’s writing was to treat it as a freedom of speech issue, and didn’t see a reason for law enforcement to be involved. But the teen rebutted.
“It’s not freedom of speech because I intended to do it,” she said.
At that point, the officer “immediately told her to not make any further statements until she was read Miranda rights,” said Greene.
Rev. Michelle Rizer-Pool, who leads Bethel AME, told the court the teen’s plot caused “irreversible harm” to the congregation: attendance has dropped off and the church diverted $8,500 in funds—originally intended to fix the church’s parking lot, plumbing and bathroom facilities—toward improved security measures, including changing locks and hiring off-duty police.
“There are not enough sermons that I can preach, and the choir cannot sing enough about faith, hope and love to erase these images and fears,” Rizer-Pool said.
The Gainesville Times reports that the girl sobbed her apology to the court at her sentencing this past Thursday. Her mother maintained that her child was “not a monster” and “had never been taught hate.”
“I am very sorry. I want to let you know it was a mistake,” the teen told the court, according to WSB TV.
Bishop Reginald Jackson, who oversees several AME churches in the region, said he was “generally...moved” by her mother’s comments, but cautioned, “her attitude was shaped somewhere by somebody.”
“The mother said she didn’t get it from home, and I generally was moved by her mother. But she got it from somewhere.”