The 17-year-old Albemarle County student who threatened an “ethnic cleansing” at Charlottesville High in March, prompting a city-wide school closure for two days, has offered an apology in a letter written from the Blue Ridge Juvenile Detention Center.
County schools Superintendent Matt Haas read the letter written by Joao Pedro Souza Ribeiro at a recent press conference.
“All students make mistakes and we want to be here to help them,” Haas said. “I think it will help people understand there is a person behind what happened.”
Ribeiro, who has no prior criminal record and whom prosecutors acknowledged showed no signs of carrying out violence, was charged with a felony and a misdemeanor for making the anonymous threat on the message board 4chan.
The teen says he tried to delete the post almost immediately, but he acknowledged that his explanation “should not and will not” be acceptable to the community.
“That website represents all that I abhor in this world,” Ribeiro said about 4chan, parts of which have been a haven for white supremacists and hate speech. “I regret including racial slurs, including one that targeted my own demographic group and that of my friends. Looking back, I don’t really understand why I did it. Maybe I was looking for support from the hateful people who traffic in the embrace of violence so I could then reveal to them what I really believed and tell them that the joke was on them.”
The letter prompted surprisingly little response on social media, and students contacted for this piece did not respond to a request for comment. Jane Mills, whose daughter is a senior at Albemarle High School, had mixed feelings.
“I run Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry, and we get people doing court-ordered community service, and for some reason, the apology felt like somebody made him do it,” she says. “But like most parents of teenagers, who were dumb teenagers at one time, too, I tend to forgive those dumb judgments and I think we are probably likely to forgive this kid.”
Ribeiro said he’s sorry for letting down the community, and specifically his parents, who cry when they visit him in juvenile detention. “I had never seen my father cry before,” he added.
At the press conference, Haas detailed new measures to encourage students to report potential threats, including an anonymous reporting system and a cash reward.
But in this case, reporting was not the problem. When asked about what the schools are doing to prevent students from posting something like this in the first place, county schools spokesperson Phil Giaramita says it’s “impractical” to block internet access on school property, and one of the most effective ways to deter this behavior is by making students aware of the consequences.
“We’re trying to help students realize that images posted on social media don’t disappear simply because they are deleted and that the punishment can be severe,” he says, though he didn’t offer details.
Amanda Moxham, an organizer with the Hate-Free Schools Coalition of Albemarle County, says her group is “deeply concerned” by the lack of anti-racist eduction in local schools.
She says the county school system “has not acknowledged their role in sustaining a racist system that creates a culture in which making a racist threat is viewed as a joke.”