Ga. Boy with Autism, 12, Gets Felony Charges for Threats at School, but Family Says He Was 'Scripting'

"It boggles my mind," Jadon Ringland's mother tells PEOPLE

Jadon and Tovah Ringland
Photo: Courtesy Tovah Ringland

The family of a 12-year-old boy with autism who faces felony charges for repeating violent phrases from a video game says his actions are a diagnosed symptom of his disorder.

Jadon Ringland faces two felony charges of making terroristic threats after a January incident that occurred in his Hightower Trail Middle School classroom, which is for children with autism and intellectual disabilities and has one special education teacher and one paraprofessional.

According to an incident report filed by his teacher, Jadon began yelling during a science lesson, "I will burn all the teachers. I will burn this school down and all the students in this class. One by one, I will make bottles. It is easy. I will put in a glass bottle gas and a piece of cloth and burn them. I will burn you."

He was then taken to the sensory room for 20 minutes, where he allegedly told the teacher, "I sometimes like to get in trouble at school."

When asked why by the teacher, he responded, "So I get out and go home to play in my computer all day," the report states.

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Jadon was initially placed on administrative suspension. It wasn't until February 5 that his family received a phone call from a court official informing them that their son was facing felony charges.

"It boggles my mind," Jadon's mother, Tovah Ringland, tells PEOPLE.

Ringland says her son was not intentionally threatening his classmates but only repeating scenes from his favorite video game, Red Dead Redemption. This behavior is a symptom of autism and is called "scripting," or echolalia.

Jadon and his 15-year-old brother play the game together to bond. In the game, players can make and use a weapon called a "fire bottle," which can be used to attack the enemy.

According to Ringland, her son has a behavior intervention plan that has two primary behaviors.

"Behavior number two is exactly what he did," she says. "There's a protocol of what [his teachers] are supposed to do if that happened and they didn't follow it. Instead they called the officer."

The plan, which was shared with PEOPLE, states that the 12-year-old may cause verbal disruption in class, which includes: "loudly scripting" and "making verbal threats to kill or harm others."

"[His teachers] then have a list of what they should do and then they have an exact script of what they were supposed to say and none of that happened," Ringland says. "When I asked my son if what he said was 'real or pretend,' he said 'pretend, video game.'"

Jadon Ringland
Courtesy Tovah Ringland

Since the incident, Ringland has addressed the Cobb County Board of Education regarding issues with the education system.

"I'm concerned that there needs to be a measure in place to cross-check the behavior intervention plan and discipline referrals to help teachers who are struggling to follow the plan," she told the board during a July 15 meeting.

Ringland knows her family isn't the only family facing similar issues.

"Not all families have the education and resources to deal with this," she says. "We're lucky to have that — and to know the law."

Now, Jadon and his family are awaiting a competency hearing Monday that will determine the future of his case. Ringland hopes that by sharing her son's story, more training happens and the system sees change.

"This is a national issue where we're criminalizing behavior of people with intellectual disabilities. My son has intellectual disabilities and we're criminalizing his behavior," Ringland says. "That's terrifying."

In a statement to PEOPLE, a spokesperson for the Cobb County School District said: "District staff and Cobb School Police are familiar with the matter, and District policy and administrative process was followed. Further details about the student's discipline record is not publicly available. Questions about criminal charges should be directed to the Cobb County DA's office."

The district attorney's office did not immediately return PEOPLE's request for comment.

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