Judge drops some charges against ex-Minnesota college student feared of plotting campus shooting

Published 4:25 pm Friday, April 19, 2024

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NORTHFIELD — A judge has dismissed some of the most serious charges against a former Minnesota college student who police and prosecutors feared was plotting a campus shooting.

Waylon Kurts, of Montpelier, Vermont, who was then a student at St. Olaf College in Northfield, was charged last April with conspiracy to commit second-degree assault, conspiracy to commit threats of violence, making terroristic threats, and a less serious count of conspiracy to commit theft. Prosecutors alleged he was “planning a mass casualty event.”

But Rice County Judge Christine Long this week dismissed two of the felony counts against Kurts, citing a lack of evidence that he was conspiring with anyone to commit assault or threats of violence, KARE-TV reported.

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Kurts, who has pleaded not guilty and is free on bail, has maintained that he is a recreational firearms enthusiast and was just exchanging text messages on that topic with a like-minded friend.

“Both individuals spent a significant amount of time discussing firearms, firearm builds, and performance of certain builds, as well as purchasing parts for firearms,” Long wrote in her order Wednesday. “However, there is no evidence that either party communicated with the other regarding threats or plans to engage in either threats of violence or second-degree assault.”

Kurts was arrested after a custodian found two empty packages for gun magazines outside Kurts’ dorm room. Police who searched his room also found a tactical vest, empty ammunition boxes, extended magazines, smoke grenade packages, and other tactical gear. They also found a hand-drawn floorplan of a campus athletic facility. But no guns or ammunition were ever found.

Long ruled that there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial on the terroristic threats charge, and on a misdemeanor conspiracy to commit theft charge stemming from notebook writings about stealing ammunition from Walmart, but further proceedings have not been scheduled.

The basis for the surviving terroristic threats charge is the prosecution argument that by leaving the two empty high-capacity magazine boxes in the trash where they could be seen by college staff and students, and that by stockpiling tactical gear and firearm parts at the school, Kurts made an indirect threat in reckless disregard of causing terror.