‘Shouting fire in a crowded theater’: Roberts called FBI warning he would commit a mass shooting at Three Rivers Middle School

James Roberts, who was arraigned Tuesday in connection with threats he made against Three Rivers Middle School, had several handmade signs in his yard like this one before police took them down. (Beca Welty|Watershed Voice)

James W. Roberts, 54, was arraigned Tuesday afternoon in Centreville in connection with making terrorist threats toward Three Rivers Middle School (TRMS). 

St. Joseph County Prosecuting Attorney David Marvin told Watershed Voice he attended the arraignment and advocated at that time to have Roberts’ bond revoked, which would mean he would have a trial within 90 days. “I knew that he would not get it revoked, but I wanted to make it clear to everybody this is serious,” Marvin said. Marvin described Roberts as a “public safety concern” and went on record during the arraignment saying he single-handedly was able to shut down an entire city, and impacted the lives of hundreds of children and families. 

Marvin confirmed Roberts has a sister who is a staff member at TRMS. Reportedly Roberts’ motivation for the threat stemmed from an argument with that family member, when she told him he was not an artist. Marvin also confirmed Roberts requested to be identified as an artist when he was arraigned in court on Tuesday. Roberts has at least two Youtube channels, and one is under the name Jasper Cloudsmoke, where he describes himself as “one who draws of the clouds.” In the description box of one video he recorded three years ago of himself sketching Roberts claims, “I opened other dimensions, and I have powers of all.” 

According to Marvin, Roberts reportedly contacted the FBI after the family dispute, telling the intake officer he planned to commit a mass shooting at TRMS. “After that, he got mad and called back again,” Marvin said. “MSP got involved and, although everything has to be taken seriously, they realized very quickly after they issued the warrant that he didn’t have the means to do what he was saying.” MSP executed a search warrant on Monday and no weapons were found during the search. Roberts was then arrested and lodged at the St. Joseph County Jail.

Laurie Hines has been named Roberts’ court-appointed attorney, and his bond has been set at $250,000. “I think what’s going to happen next will be a mental health screening, but that’ll be up to the defense,” he said. Roberts is scheduled for a pre-exam conference in St. Joseph County 3B District Court on May 2, and a preliminary examination will happen on May 9 at 1 p.m.

Superintendent Nikki Nash met Monday morning with the MSP detective, along with county and city law enforcement, and Marvin. “I would like everyone to know we are all unified,” he said. “I want the community to see that law enforcement is working together. Nikki had a hard decision to make and she didn’t want to send the kids to school when someone makes a threat like that.” Nash had previously sent a statement to parents via email on Monday afternoon where she said safety was the school’s top priority, and that school administrators met with local law enforcement to acquire “additional information” on the steps being taken in response to the threat, and efforts were finalized to ensure the safety of staff and students.

Marvin likened the case involving Roberts to that of the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” analogy, meaning speech or actions with the sole purpose of creating panic. “You cannot call fire in a theater, and that’s what he did,” Marvin said. “He called out ‘fire,’ and it shut down an entire school system.”

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.