Just days after multiple news outlets reported the story of a Texas teen jailed for making a sarcastic threat online, a Mississippi mother facing a nearly identical situation gave an exclusive interview to The Daily Caller News Foundation about her son’s lengthy incarceration.
Josh Pillault was arrested last October for threatening to kill people and destroy buildings. At the time of his arrest, he was 19-years-old, and an avid video game player.
The threats were made while he was playing “Runescape,” an online multiplayer fantasy game. Another player began antagonizing him, and eventually told him to kill himself.
Irritated, Pillault said he would kill not just himself, but also take out the local high school. He also mentioned Columbine — the name of an infamous school shooting — according to reports.
It was the response that the other player had been hoping for, according to Pillault’s mother.
“His gleeful last words to Josh were ‘Knock, knock!’ which is a reference to the feds he sent our way,” wrote Stacey Pillault in an email to TheDC News Foundation.
Federal authorities raided the Pillault home a few days later, arresting Josh. He has been in jail ever since.
His lawyer argued that the threat was “idle or careless talk, exaggeration or something said in a joking manner.”
Josh possessed none of the materials he would need to carry out such an attack, nor was there any good reason to believe he was serious, said his mother.
“His doctors have said he wouldn’t hurt himself or anyone else,” she wrote. “We actually have teachers who were willing to testify that they knew it wasn’t a true threat as soon as they found out it was Josh. Even his fellow inmates and guards have commented on how they can’t believe he is still in there.”
Josh turned 20 in December — behind bars. As of next week, his incarceration will have lasted 9 months.
“Instead of being home with his family, he spent his birthday and the holidays behind bars,” wrote his mother. “We all worry about him constantly. I barely sleep anymore because I am worried about him.”
Josh was adamant about maintaining his innocence, but the family eventually decided that the odds of a conviction were simply too high. On June 20, Josh plead guilty, hoping for a lighter sentence. He is now awaiting transfer to a federal prison, where medical experts will evaluate his mental condition. Sentencing should take place a few months from now. Josh could get 10 years in prison, and a fine of $250,000.
The Pillault case mirrors the case of 19-year-old Justin Carter, who has been in jail since February due to threats he made over the Internet after playing an online game. When another player called Carter insane, he made a sarcastic comment that he was crazy enough to attack a school. Immediately afterward, he wrote that he was just kidding.
Still, a Canadian woman saw the threat online, and reported it to Texas authorities, who arrested Carter for make threats of a terrorist nature. He has been in jail ever since, and faces an eight-year sentence. Like Josh, Justin celebrated his birthday in jail.
The arrests raise questions about balancing safety and sensibility. Authorities in the Carter case mentioned the recent shooting in Newtown, Conn. — where two dozen people were killed in a mass shooting at an elementary — as one reason to be extra vigilant when threats are made.
Carter’s father said his son didn’t follow the news, and was barely aware of Newtown.
Pillault, on the other hand, was already in jail at the time of the Newtown shooting. His mother said he was extremely upset by the news — and that people might associate him with such violence.
By all accounts, authorities are taking the cases seriously. A judge was so concerned about the risk Carter posed to the public that he set bail at $500,000.
The Carter parents launched a change.org petition to convince the state of Texas to drop charges. A spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office said they hadn’t heard of the case.
Carter is not without his defenders. National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke wrote: “Even if one considers that Carter’s joke met the ‘imminent lawless action’ threshold — which I absolutely do not — the subsequent search and questioning of the suspect rendered it demonstrably clear that Carter did not present anything close. That the case has been carried beyond that point is astonishing — and unconstitutional.”
And of course, both sets of parents believe the loss of ten years of their sons’ lives is too steep a penalty for careless and ultimately harmless video game chatter.
“These kids, they don’t realize what they’re doing,” said Carter’s father, in an interview with a local news channel. “They don’t understand the implications. They don’t understand.”
“Did he say something incredibly stupid? Sure he did,” wrote Pillault’s mother. “Should alarm bells have been rung? Maybe so, given the climate. But this was a false alarm.”
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