Teen With Autism Charged With Making Terroristic Threat in Collin County

An 8th grader in Collin County is facing serious charges after police say he threatened to shoot up his school.

The student is diagnosed with autism and his parents say what happened is all a big misunderstanding because of his condition.

Cole McLain, 13, who has autism, spent 44 days in a juvenile detention center in McKinney.

It’s been an agonizing month-and-a-half for his parents Lori and Parish McLain, eager to have their son home for the holidays.

“It’s hard," Lori McLain said tearfully, "Our life revolves around our children."

How he ended up behind bars begins in Frisco in October when Lori says a classmate reported Cole had developed a "kill list" of students and staff at Maus Middle School.

He was arrested and a district investigation determined his behavior to be "a manifestation of the student's disability."

“They said it was a misguided conversation that they didn't have a hit list,” Lori explained.

Then in November there was another report, this time at the Community ISD school that Cole transferred to.

According to a district police investigation summary, Cole became agitated when a teacher at Edge Middle School told him he was sitting in the wrong seat.

As class began, the report says Cole looked at the teacher and said, "We'll shoot this school too."

He was questioned and days later arrested again.

“We understand that this is a hot button issue and that people are afraid and we understand that, we get that,” Lori said.

But when it comes to children with autism, experts say it isn't clear cut.

“They don't understand what they're saying,” said Leigh Richardson, clinical director of Brain Performance Center in Dallas.

Richardson works to improve the behavior of children with special needs.

She hasn't treated Cole but feels arresting him was the wrong decision.

“I think that and looking at it on paper, I can understand but I think if that partnership had been there, that relationship had been there between the school and the parents it never would've gotten to that point,” Richardson said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Community ISD said it is, “Unapologetic about our commitment to take appropriate legal measures to ensure the safety of our students, staff and visitors. If any person is found to have made a threat of violence against a student, staff member or school building, he or she will be arrested and charged to the full extent that the law allows. The district is also committed to actively cooperating with members of the legal and/or juvenile justice system throughout the adjudication process which would arise from such an arrest.”

Cole's parents feel more training for investigators might have made a difference

“Every school resource officer in the state of Texas is a sworn peace officer. Therefore, there are certain requirements that every officer has to have in the state,” said Scott Donaldson, who teaches school resources officers at Collin College.

He says peace officers in Texas are training in crisis intervention and de-escalation but that each department has its own policies.

After a detention hearing on Thursday, Cole was released into the arms of his mom and dad.

“He's my little Christmas miracle. This is all I ask for for Christmas,” said Parish McLain.

Cole still faces a lengthy legal battle, one his parents hope leads to a change about how incidents involving students with special needs are handled.

“I hope this doesn't happen to anybody else who has autism. It’s just wrong,” Cole McLain said.

For now, Cole will remain on house arrest.

His parents say he could face 12 months on probation.

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