Ryan Scott Connell MUG

Ryan Scott Connell

Ryan Connell has been on authorities' radar for months.

A review of Citrus County Sheriff’s Office incident reports paints a picture of a sheriff’s office and school system that began closely monitoring the 34-year-old Floral City man in February, becoming increasingly alarmed by his statements and behavior, and taking precautionary measures to ban him from all school campuses and document his mental state, living conditions and access to firearms.

They describe a man angry with the government who made multiple, consistent threats to “shoot up” Inverness Primary School (IPS), was characterized by a psychologist as “psychotic,” had threats to do harm to children and a racial slur scrawled on the camper he was living in and had access to firearms.

* * *

It began with an outburst in a DUI class.

On Feb. 23, around 5 p.m., Deputy Patrick Martin was dispatched to West Central Florida Driver Improvement at 1131 Sterling Road in Inverness by an instructor in a DUI class. The instructor told Martin that Connell, one of his students, had said during a discussion on anger management that nothing worked to control his anger, and that he got so angry he could “shoot up a school.” He also told Martin that Connell was angry “most of the time” while in class.

Afterward, Martin attempted to visit Connell at his home on East Roo Lane in Floral City, but only found Connell’s father, who said he hadn’t seen his son since Feb. 21 and didn’t have a phone number for him, He told Martin he would contact the sheriff’s office if he saw his son.

Martin reported the incident to his sergeant, who emailed Ethan Vanscoy and another deputy, telling them to follow up.

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At around 8 p.m. on Feb. 23, Vanscoy headed back to East Roo Lane. Connell’s father told him nothing had changed since Martin visited.

A little after 10 p.m., Vanscoy went back. He found the driveway deserted and the residence dark; he got no answer at the door. He then attempted to call Connell’s father, but got no answer and left a voicemail.

“Throughout the remainder of my shift, approximately every hour, I attempted to call,” Vanscoy wrote in his report. “I was unsuccessful in making contact with him.”

* * *

Two days later, police got a potential clue about Connell’s whereabouts.

On Feb. 25, Detectives Mike Laborda and Brian Casalvieri responded to Citrus High School (CHS), where a teacher told them she thought she had seen Connell on school property within the past couple of weeks.

The teacher, who monitors the rear parking lot at the school, reported seeing a blue truck driven by a white male she didn’t recognize, with two other occupants, in the school’s parking lot. After being shown a photograph of Connell, she told the detectives she believed it was him, but that she couldn’t be positive.

The detectives scoured surveillance footage of the parking lot that had been taken since Jan. 28, but could not locate the vehicle in any of it. School officials immediately trespassed Connell from all school campuses and said they would continue reviewing the footage, promising to coordinate with the school resource officer if anything turned up.

Next, the detectives headed to East Roo Lane.

They, too, were met by Connell’s father, who told them Connell was at work at a nursery nearby. He told them his son had serious anger issues and “is bipolar” but refused to take medication. “He also said that Ryan has made several violent statements over the years but hasn’t carried them out,” Laborda wrote.

When detectives asked, Connell’s father told them he has firearms but kept them in a locked safe his son did not have access to.

* * *

At CBC Plants on Orange Avenue, police finally found Connell.

He told Laborda and Casalvieri he knew why they were there.

During his conversation with the detectives, Connell told them he has anger issues. He said that during the DUI class, students were talking about things that anger people, so he shared his dislike for the government, “particularly the Internal Revenue Service.” He said the government makes him so angry he “would like to shoot up their kids’ schools.”

“Ryan said that he feels he has been hurt by the government in the past and it angers him to the point he wants them to feel his pain,” Laborda wrote.

Connell then told Laborda he had no desire to follow through on his threats, and that he was just “expressing his level of anger about government,” adding he thinks the government remotely taps into cellphone conversations and eavesdrops on citizens.

The detectives asked Connell if he’d been to any schools recently. He told them the last time he was at a school was in 2008, when he went to get his transcript from Citrus High School. They told him he wouldn’t be going back, because he had been barred from all county school campuses.

It was not the last time Connell would threaten to shoot up a school.

* * *

On July 31, Connell’s anger re-emerged.

During a hearing in Mental Health Court, County Judge Mark Yerman told Connell he tested positive on a drug test, and had to be jailed and removed from the alternative court program for violating its conditions.

As Deputy Gregory Popovich escorted Connell out of Yerman’s courtroom, Connell told the bailiff “that people would pay,” according to a separate incident report.

While deputies were putting Connell into a transport van after he cracked the window of his temporary cell, Connell became angry over his drug-test results, and said he was going to “come kill everyone at IPS,” Deputy Jeremy Laughlin wrote. “He said, ‘I’m going to (expletive) shoot everyone.’”

Laughlin alerted Lt. Scott Farmer of the threats. Farmer then notified his supervisors and Citrus County School District School Safety Specialist Chief Buddy Grant. Prosecutors with the State Attorney’s Office were also made aware of the incident, documents show.

As Popovich and Deputy Christopher DiCamillo were driving Connell past CHS on the way to the Citrus County jail, they overheard him say he wanted to drive a pickup truck through the fence there and kill the children on the playground, according to the deputies’ respective reports.

He also made threats toward IPS during the trip, the deputies reported.

“The suspect further stated that he was going to take a truck and drive it through Inverness Primary School killing as many kids as he can,” DiCamillo wrote.

“He stated he would go to IPS and shoot up children on the playground,” Popovich wrote. “He stated that he would likely get out in about three years … and they would be making a ‘Netflix’ movie about him.”

* * *

On Aug. 2, Deputy David Flores spoke with a jail official, who said Connell’s onsite psychologist reported Connell was frustrated over his drug test, adding, he would “shoot up IPS,” Flores’ report states.

Connell’s psychologist believed him to be “psychotic,” and also mentioned Connell said he has a sign on the camper he lives in behind his parents’ home that reads: “I will shoot your kid.”

On Aug. 5, Casalvieri listened in on phone calls Connell made from jail to his father on July 31 and Aug. 1.

In the July 31 call, arguing with his father, Connell says he was wrongfully jailed, and that if he is sent to prison, "When I come out, I'm (expletive) gettin' my revenge." "I'm killin' their kids when I get the (expletive) out and that (expletive)'s really (expletive) happening," he tells his father.

In the Aug. 1 call, after being told by his father that prison might be what he needs, Connell says, "Yeah, when I get the (expletive) out, I'm going to shoot the (expletive) out of IPS then, there." During that call, Connell also threatens violence against his father should he be sent to prison.

Casalvieri saved the recordings as evidence.

* * *

On Aug. 7, Connell’s father let Flores into the camper his son stays in on his property. The deputy found no firearms inside, but documented what he found written in black marker on the front door of the camper: “Stay away,” and “I will shoot you (racial slur) kids.”

Connell’s father told Flores his son made the sign because he thought someone was trying to break into his camper.

Flores was also invited into Connell’s father’s house, where he found shotguns in a locked glass case and a gun safe that was locked with a key Connell’s father had hidden.

Connell’s father said his son was familiar with guns, and went hunting last year in the swamps behind his house.

On Aug. 16, Casalvieri returned to the jail to further investigate the threats Connell made Aug. 2.

An onsite investigator there told him she had gotten an email from Connell’s psychologist noting the threats against IPS, which Casalvieri confirmed with Connell. Connell also told the detective the words on his camper written by him after items went missing from it. The investigator at the jail also told Casalvieri that Connell had not sent an email or handwritten mail while there.

* * *

State prosecutors announced Thursday they are not pursuing criminal charges against Connell for the recent threats because they cannot meet the evidentiary standard required. In total, authorities documented four specific threats against IPS and one against CHS.

Connell remains in custody without bond, awaiting an Aug. 28 court hearing for violating his probation and failing out of Mental Health Court. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief for breaking the holding-cell window.

Contact Chronicle reporter Buster Thompson at 352-564-2916 or bthompson@chronicleonline.com. Contact Chronicle News Editor Brad Bautista at 352-564-2909.