"I always knew I needed to tell somebody" -- Local teen honored for reporting alleged PHS plot

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo (KKCO) - Court documents released Thursday are shedding light on 18-year-old Robert Johnson's alleged plan to carry out a "Columbine style" attack on Palisade High School, and how a student reported the threat after Johnson supposedly asked him for help to get explosives.

"Go Columbine on Palisade" -- they're words that did not sit well with 17-year-old Calvin O'Banion.

"I was actually scared at first," says O'Banion. "I didn't know what to do."

According to an arrest affidavit, those words were spoken by Robert Johnson, a student enrolled in an alternative program at Palisade High School. The documents state that Johnson approached O'Banion during lunch one day and asked if he could get him some "real explosives" or if he knew how to make a bomb.

A week later, Johnson came back to him with two other students and asked him if he where he could get C-4 or dynamite. During that conversation, the affidavit states that Johnson told O'Banion he "already had guns."

"It freaked me out knowing that he could've gone through with this," says O'Banion. "I'm kind of glad that he came to me, because if he wouldn't have, it could've happened."

O'Banion told deputies he lied to Johnson to see if he could get more information from him, telling him he had a cousin who might be able to get some dynamite.

"I always knew I needed to tell somebody," says O'Banion. "But I think I just had to think it through. Then I went to the principal."

Deputies were quickly brought in and Johnson and the two other students were questioned. Johnson was the only one of the three arrested.

"There were certainly words attributed to [the other students], but just how serious those words were and their commitment to a crime was unclear to us," says Rich Tuttle, assistant district attorney.

According to the affidavit, during an interview with investigators Johnson admitted he had thought about blowing up the school and shooting students. He also said he does not like the principal or assistant principal at the school.

"We did think there were credible threats and that's why we made an arrest in the case," says Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey.

But the Sheriff's Office says that arrest would never have been possible without the courage of O'Banion.

"We feel like it's important to point out that this is a kid who made the right decision," says Hilkey.

Thursday evening O'Banion was presented with a special award from the Sheriff's Office. He says while he's honored to receive the award, the greatest honor is knowing he won't go down as the kid who could have stopped a tragedy, but didn't.

"I think it was really important," says O'Banion. "I've been here for four years. I didn't want to see anyone get shot at."

Johnson has been charged with Criminal Solicitation to Commit Possession of an Explosive or Incendiary Device and Interference with an Educational Institution.

He remains behind bars on a $100,000 bond.

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