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White teen pleads guilty to plot to attack Black churchgoers in Georgia

Prosecutors said the teenager had outlined plans for the attack in a notebook and that a search of her book bag revealed two knives and a T-shirt that read “free Dylann Storm Roof."
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Gainesville, Ga.
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Gainesville, Ga.Google maps

A 17-year-old white girl in Georgia pleaded guilty Thursday to planning a knife attack on Black churchgoers.

Under a negotiated sentence, the unidentified teenager was sentenced to remain in juvenile detention until her 21st birthday, the maximum possible sentence. She will then begin 10 years probation during which she will be prohibited from coming close to the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Gainesville, which she had planned to attack, according to NBC Affiliate WXIA.

The girl's plot against the church in Gainesville, about 50 miles northeast of Atlanta, came to light after a high school classmate heard about the plan and reported it to authorities last November, authorities said.

According to WXIA, prosecutors said that the teenager had written out the plans in her notebook and that a search of her bag revealed two knives and T-shirts, one of which said “free Dylann Storm Roof” with swastikas drawn onto the arms. Roof was the gunman who massacred nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

The shirts also included several writings on their backs, including “I’m not crazy I had to do this,” and, “I do consider myself a white supremacist," prosecutors said.

While the teen was in her school principal's office after the book bag was searched, the school resource officer told her he did not think it would become a criminal matter as her writings and T-shirts would be considered free speech, prosecutors said, according to WXIA.

"It's not freedom of speech because I intended to do it," the girl allegedly responded.

A Gainesville Police Department press release last year said the girl was charged with criminal attempt to commit murder. The police chief called the plot a "potentially horrific incident" that was motivated by the race of the church members.

Bethel AME Church's pastor, the Rev. Michel Rizer-Pool, said in court that services in her congregation have changed since the planned attack was discovered. "There is more focusing on the sounds outside made during worship service than the songs of Zion being sung by the choir," WXIA reported.

The judge, in accepting the negotiated plea, commended the teen for her behavior while in custody since last year, according to the Atlanta station.

RELATED: 'We cannot worship in fear': Metro Atlanta AME churches increase security after recent threat

"I appreciate how much you have worked on yourself," Judge Allison Toller said. "From all accounts it appears that you have welcomed the assistance that you're getting, that you have taken the opportunity to get your GED and to further yourself and that you have been pleasant and working well with the staff. Through your detention you have made the best of a very bad circumstance."