A Texas teenager who has been in jail since March faces an eight-year prison sentence because of a threatening joke he made while playing an online video game.
In February, Justin Carter was playing “League of Legends” — an online, multiplayer fantasy game — when another player wrote a comment calling him insane. Carter’s response, which he now deeply regrets, was intended as joke.
“He replied ‘Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head, I’m going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts,’ and the next two lines were lol and jk,” said Jack Carter, Justin’s father, in a statement to a local news channel.
The statements “lol” and “jk” — meaning “laughing out loud” and “just kidding” — indicate that Justin’s statement was entirely sarcastic, said his father.
But a Canadian woman who saw the post looked up Carter’s Austin address, determined that it was near an elementary school, and called the police. Carter was arrested one month later, and has been in jail ever since. He recently celebrated his 19th birthday behind bars.
Authorities charged him with making a terrorist threat. If convicted, he will face eight years in prison.
“These people are serious. They really want my son to go away to jail for a sarcastic comment that he made,” said the elder Carter.
Authorities noted that recent school shootings like the one in Newtown, Connecticut have caused them to evaluate all potential threats seriously. Newtown was still fresh in their minds at the time of Carter’s arrest.
“In light of recent situations, statements such as the one Justin made are taken seriously,” said an Austin police detective in a statement.
Carter’s father said his son didn’t follow the news at all.
“Justin was the kind of kid who didn’t read the newspaper,” said Jack Carter. “He didn’t watch television. He wasn’t aware of current events. These kids, they don’t realize what they’re doing. They don’t understand the implications. They don’t understand.”
Carter’s parents have launched a change.org petition to convince Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot to release their son.
“Release Justin Carter from jail,” the petition reads. “Too many teenagers are being arrested, jailed and having their lives forever altered because of anti-terrorism laws and investigations that impede their 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech.”
A hearing to review Carter’s case is scheduled for July 1.
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