He was in 10th grade when the trouble started. The boy was 16 then living in the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam. Friendless and socially isolated, he stopped going to classes, his life virtually devoid of social interaction that didn't involve computers. He started at a new school, but again stopped attending, and staff who visited his home to urge him back found him in "impoverished and filthy" circumstances.
It was in 2014, during this idle time away from school, when his crime wave began. The year before, he had learned about hacking, swatting, and denial-of-service attacks online. Now he harassed and extorted victims of his own, copying similar incidents, and called in fake hostage situations, murders, and bomb threats—even threatening to kill police.
He was arrested later that year, on Dec. 5, 2014—incarcerated for a rash of swattings across the United States—and insights about his motives aired in a Port Coquitlam courtroom on Monday provided a fascinating and disturbing glimpse into the young criminal mind.
The teenaged boy, who can't be named because he is under 18, has already plead guilty to 23 charges, including criminal harassment and extortion. There is some evidence he had links to a hacking group known as Lizard Squad. Stephen Martin, the teen's defence lawyer, repeatedly described his client as a "computer geek" with no friends in the "stupidest age group in society."
"He is a loner," Martin told Judge Patricia Janzen. "He chooses that lifestyle. That's not going to change."
But at a sentencing hearing on Monday, the court heard from prosecutor Michael Bauer who highlighted statements from three newly submitted psychiatric reports written about the boy—assessments Bauer characterized as "quite troubling," since the boy blamed his victims for his attacks, even suggesting they'd be amused by the criminal pranks.
According to the first assessment, he had a narcissistic personality and took "sadistic delight" in the discomfort he caused his victims, feeling justified for his actions after getting "embarrassed, insulted, or confronted." The pleasure and pride the boy felt suggested the "emergence of psychopathic traits." The young hacker showed no remorse and had "simplistic" plans to avoid criminal activity in the future, the report said.
The boy "caused many people a great deal of grief all over Canada and the United States," the prosecution said
A second assessment by a different doctor described the boy's upbringing as abusive and chaotic. He didn't attend school while in custody and the court heard that he assaulted another inmate while locked up. It found him at "high risk of future internet-based offences." Furthermore, given that his victims were predominantly female, his vengeful actions suggested that he holds "misogynistic attitudes." The doctor's report recommended psychotherapy.
A third report, produced by a social worker, detailed how the boy's "attendance in school plummeted and he failed all his courses" after unspecified "trouble" began in grade 10.
Bauer characterized the reports as "very negative," but recognizing the boy's young age, early guilty pleas, and lack of prior offences, recommended 16 months in jail minus time served, and eight months of community supervision. He advised the boy be restricted from contacting any of his 29 victims, be banned from accessing the internet, placed in psychotherapy, and banned from possessing weapons and consuming alcohol and non-prescription drugs.
The boy "caused many people a great deal of grief all over Canada and the United States," Bauer said.
But Martin argued that the boy didn't understand the consequences of his actions, and that the "dose of reality" from going to jail would be a learning experience.
"You grow up very quickly spending time in jail," Martin said. "I highly doubt if he will do anything like that in the future."
But Judge Janzen took issue with the statement.
"The trouble is that the assessment we got says high risk of doing this in the future. Not just moderate risk—high risk," Janzen said.
"That's an opinion," Martin replied.
"That's three opinions," Janzen said. "What does he need? For everybody's sake, for society's sake, for his sake."
The teen's lawyer said his client is a "small cog in a big wheel" who may be "willing to come clean" by exposing others
Martin said his client voluntarily confessed to police and handed the case to prosecutors "on a silver platter," saving them an estimated $150,000 by pleading guilty, negating the need to fly in witnesses from cities all over the US. He also said his client has showed remorse and was a "small cog in a big wheel" who may be "willing to come clean" by exposing others involved in similar activities.
"He's a young individual. He's got a lot of his life ahead of him. I don't believe that he wants to waste his life in federal penitentiaries and I think he's learned that," Martin said. "I don't know what else that he needs other than the learning experience for him spending time in custody."
From the prisoner's box, the boy told the court that his time in jail had helped his social skills. He said he wanted to spend more time outside and avoid the prolonged periods of idle time that first drew him to criminal activity online.
Janzen then asked the boy whether he had any other avenues to explore aside from computers to keep him out of court.
"The computer thing is a bit of a two-edged sword," Janzen told the boy. "That's the thing you've been good at, and you're going to want to migrate back to what you're good at and where your friends are, but the reality is, that's got you into a huge amount of trouble."
"I haven't really found myself enjoying much of anything else, but I'm very much so open to trying something else to spend my time," the boy replied.
Janzen asked if he could think of anything else that "seemed fun" in his life.
"Not really," the boy replied.
He is set to be sentenced on July 9.