Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Eleven months before police say 16-year-old Joshua Owen walked into Cleveland High School and tried to shoot three students, he told officers voices were telling him to “shoot up the school,” according to a police report.
Owen, then a freshman, was not charged in that incident and was taken to Kaseman Presbyterian Hospital for a mental health evaluation.
It is unclear what action school officials took in response. Bethany Pendergrass, a spokeswoman for Rio Rancho Public Schools, said the district could not discuss any matters involving students.
“It is important that parents and community members know that we take all threats very seriously, and fully investigate all rumors, reports and information concerning threats to our schools,” Pendergrass said. “These investigations include the Rio Rancho Police Department.”
According to a search warrant affidavit, before classes began Thursday, Owen walked up to the school near Paseo del Volcan and Unser NE wearing a ski mask, tried to shoot three students and then fired a .45 caliber handgun into the air.
No one was injured.
Owen was arrested in an arroyo near his house and less than a mile away from the school a short time later.
He gave officers a “to do list” he had in his pocket that indicated he wanted to kill his ex-girlfriend, kill other people and then kill himself, according to the affidavit. And he told officers the voices in his head were telling him to carry out his list.
Owen, who attended elementary and middle school in Rio Rancho, is charged with three counts of attempted murder, as well as unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on school premises and unlawful possession of a handgun by a person under 19.
At Owen’s first appearance in the 13th Judicial District Court in Sandoval County on Monday morning, a judge determined he should be kept in custody and should undergo a psychological evaluation.
Scary text messages
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, students were evacuated and bused to the nearby Santa Ana Star Center.
That’s where detectives searched for Owen’s ex-girlfriend to interview her.
“They asked her, ‘How long have you known him, what’s your history with him, have you talked with him recently?’ ” the girl’s mother told the Journal. “She hasn’t talked to him at all. We’ve seen him and his mom at Walmart, and we just turn around and go the other way.”
The girl’s mother said she could not be sure that her daughter was the ex-girlfriend mentioned in the note, but the two had dated for about two months last year. She said they broke up in early March after his behavior began to scare her daughter.
“He was nice, he was respectful,” she said. “I mean everything you hear on the news about somebody, although he had the voices telling him to do things.”
She said that shortly after they broke up, Owen began sending scary text messages to her daughter. Sometimes he’d say he loved her, other times he would say he hated her.
Police reports show that, on March 13, 2018, a Rio Rancho police officer was called to the high school after the girl told staff Owen had sent her text messages about bringing a weapon to campus.
The message read: “Ever since my dad got a gun from his friend something tells me I should shoot up my school and I don’t want to but I keep fighting it.”
Security guards took Owen to the office so he could be interviewed by police. He told them he “has been having feelings and hearing voices in his head for a little over a year telling him to ‘shoot up the school,’ ” an officer wrote in the report.
During the interview, Owen got more and more agitated, and began yelling, “Stop it! I won’t do that! Get out of my head!” and he said he didn’t think he could control his anger.
He said there were no weapons in his home.
The officer handcuffed Owen and took him to a police cruiser where his mother was waiting. Then he was taken to Kaseman Presbyterian Hospital to be evaluated.
Capt. Andrew Rodriguez, a spokesman for the Rio Rancho Police Department, said he could not comment on where Owen got the gun used last week.
‘The signs were there’
On Monday morning, a 6-foot-2-inch Owen shuffled into district court and stood with his defense attorney, Steve Archibeque, and his parents before Judge George Eichwald.
Archibeque said his client has “serious mental health issues,” although he would not comment on any possible diagnoses.
Archibeque said the medication Owen has been given in the Juvenile Detention Center has been wearing off in the evenings, leading to recurring problems. He plans to raise the issue of competency.
Eichwald determined Owen should remain in custody as the case progresses.
“I’m going to find that, if released, Joshua would be a danger to himself or others, so he will remain in detention,” Eichwald said. “I order that he undergo a psychological examination, and I will order the Juvenile Detention Center to follow up on his medication and make sure he gets the right medication.”
The mother of Owen’s ex-girlfriend also attended the hearing and said she approached his parents to ask if her daughter had been a target. She said she is glad he will stay in jail for now, but the whole incident has scared and upset their family.
“You don’t want to think that this would happen, that a kid could do this, but the signs were there,” she said. “The parents knew, the school knew. You hear voices, that’s not normal behavior.”