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Mountain Vista student charged as adult in alleged murder plot

Prosecutors on Tuesday charged a 16-year-old Mountain Vista High student with two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the wake of a plot to unleash violence at the school.
DA George Brauchler

CASTLE ROCK – One of the 16-year-old girls suspected in a plot to attack Mountain Vista High had references to other school shootings on a social media account, prosecutors asserted Tuesday in charging the student with two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Sienna Johnson also mentioned Natural Born Killers, a 1994 Oliver Stone film that was referenced repeatedly by the two students who attacked Columbine High on April 20, 1999, murdering a dozen students and a teacher and wounding more than 20 others before killing themselves.

Judge Paul King set bail at $1 million for Johnson after she was charged as an adult.

Johnson's family declined to speak with reporters after the hearing.

The second girl, who was in court earlier in the day Tuesday, has not been formally charged because she has not yet undergone a psychiatric evaluation – and the nature of the dynamic prosecutors believe existed between the two has not been made clear.

However, prosecutor Deb Wrenholt, in bringing the charges against Johnson, said she had compiled detailed maps of the school showing student movement and had a schedule for the police officer assigned there. She allegedly also admitted she was "faking her mental progress" while she was being treated at Children's Hospital in the wake of her arrest, had harmed pets in the past, and showed no remorse.

The mentions of other shootings were found on Johnson's Tumblr page, which also included violent images, Wrenholt said.

Wrenholt also said the girl told investigators that if she was released she would try to do the same thing again but would be more discreet.

She had also obtained a BB gun and was practicing with it – and Judge King said that she had made efforts to obtain actual weapons.

King also said that the alleged plot was timed close to Christmas for maximum effect.

In court, Ara Ohanian, Johnson's attorney, called the prosecutor's assertions "grossly exaggerated."

Johnson appeared in court in pale green jail Scrubs, her wrists and ankles shackled. She showed little emotion beyond smiling at her attorney.

Johnson is scheduled to be back in court Jan. 13 for a hearing to determine whether documents in the case will be unsealed. She also has a two-day hearing scheduled March 30 and 31, and her attorney plans to argue that the case should be transferred back to juvenile court.

Johnson's suspected accomplice, another 16-year-old, saw the decision about charges against her postponed until Jan. 14 because her mental health evaluation hasn't yet been completed.

That girl's attorney, Dagna Van Der Jagt, declined to comment after the morning hearing. In court, Van Der Jagt said the girl's parents had agreed to turn over the password to her cell phone so that investigators can get into it – if they obtain a search warrant for it.

In court documents opposing a motion filed by 9NEWS and other media organizations seeking to unseal documents in the case, Van Der Jagt argued that the case against that girl is flimsy.

"There is no direct evidence in this case of defendant's possession of any weapons, bombs, or incendiary devices," Van Der Jagt wrote. Instead, the prosecution's theory hinges upon entries written in defendant's personal journal, which was seized by law enforcement without a warrant and without consent of either defendant or her parents.

"Defendant's personal journal was written at the urging of her professional counselor as part of on-going therapy."

The two girls were taken into custody Dec. 12 after Douglas County sheriff's investigators, acting on a tip, uncovered the alleged plot.

Numerous documents in the case remain sealed, and the full scope of the alleged plan is not clear. What is known is that someone send a text message about the alleged conspiracy to Douglas County, using a system known as Text-A-Tip that was established in the wake of the Columbine tragedy. After looking into it, sheriff's investigators determined that it was credible and took both girls into custody that same day. According to the tip, the girls were planning to carry out their plot the following week.

Mountain Vista, located in Highlands Ranch, is home to roughly 2,200 students.

Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: kevin.vaughan@9news.com or 303-871-1862.

(© 2016 KUSA)