By Sally Voth
The man arrested after entering Sandy Hook Elementary with a 2-by-4 board labeled "high powered rifle" five days after the massacre at a Connecticut school by the same name says he was just trying to bring attention to what he feels is inadequate security.
Christopher Gerrit Johnson, 33, of 333 Junction Road, Strasburg, was arrested Dec. 19 and charged with disorderly conduct.
He spoke after an appearance Friday morning in Shenandoah County General District Court.
"It was a metaphor for a weapon," Johnson said of the board. "I had no intention of hurting anyone at all. I was very concerned, in fact, for the children, and my own mother who works there. I was just beside myself with grief over what happened [in Connecticut]."
He added he was "really upset" Shenandoah County hadn't, in his opinion, added extra security in the public schools. Johnson said he went into Sandy Hook in Strasburg to inquire when the next PTO meeting would be.
"I waited until I saw no children in the building," he said. "In fact, there's not one child that saw me. I was invited into the principal's office to speak with them."
Johnson asked General District Judge Amy Tisinger for more time to hire an attorney, and she agreed to set his next court appearance for March 22. He is free on his own recognizance.
Outside the courtroom, Johnson said he'd lost his job selling merchandise for Aramark at Wizards' and Capitals' games at the Verizon Center because he missed so much work while he was locked up for nine days following his arrest.
He said he spent six days in a mental hospital being evaluated.
"That was a very nice place," Johnson said of the Petersburg facility. "They had good doctors there. They weren't like the police station here. They were horrible. For one, they left me in a holding cell for 36 hours chained. I was handcuffed while I was in a holding cell."
While in the holding cell, another prisoner was put in there for an assault charge, and was kept unrestrained, according to Johnson, who has a 6-year-old daughter going to school in Warren County.
"I was terrified," he said. "Within the first day or two [at the psychological facility], the doctors there said, 'You're all there [mentally], aren't you?'
"I made a mockery of Shenandoah County, so they didn't treat me very well in the jail at all. I made light of the fact that they weren't, in my eyes, protecting our children or doing enough."
Johnson said he was on his way to work when he heard about the Newtown, Conn., slayings on the radio. His mother works as a kindergarten aide at Sandy Hook in Strasburg, and he thought the worst.
"I literally pulled over and got sick with grief," Johnson said.
After vomiting on the side of the road, he said he started to head back to Shenandoah County, but about 10 minutes later heard the affected Sandy Hook was in Connecticut.
"I felt the grief of all those parents that were up there," Johnson said.
That was compounded by watching news of the slaughter, reading Facebook posts about it and seeing pictures of the young victims.
"I was so depressed over it, I thought something's gotta get done," Johnson said.
After calling the school and asking about additional security, he said he decided to test it.
"It took 12 minutes from the time I walked in for them to have an officer show up," Johnson said, adding, "I didn't come in ranting, raving, throwing this board around."
While Johnson said he has received community support for his actions, it grieves him that he's banned from school property, and can no longer attend sports' games.
"It breaks my heart," he said. "I was trying to do something good for the community, and now I'm blackballed."
Sheriff Timothy C. Carter declined to comment on the case Friday afternoon. Immediately after the incident, Maj. Scott Proctor said it appeared Johnson was trying to draw attention to school safety.
"No one should enter school property and cause disruption or fear or display any kind of behavior that could be interpreted as threatening," he said.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org