MEDFORD, Ore. — The Medford Police Department says that a now-former custodian at South Medford High School had made significant steps toward carrying out a mass shooting before he sought help several weeks ago.
On July 20, 24-year-old Kristopher Clay came into the Medford Police Department lobby and requested to speak with an officer. MPD said that Clay told the officer he was having "homicidal thoughts" and had plans to follow through with them. The officer took Clay to Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center's Behavioral Health Unit.
MPD launched an investigation into Clay, leading to a series of searches covering at least three locations in Jackson County, including Clay's residence in the 700-block of W McAndrews in Medford. Investigators found ammunition, rifles, gun parts, tactical gear, and "written material." Lieutenant Mike Budreau said that the recovered evidence included manifestos, maps, and a journal that Clay allegedly tampered with while in the hospital.
Clay worked as a custodian at South Medford High School at the time that he turned himself in. MPD said that police contacted officials from the Medford School District and school officials worked with School Resource Officers on a sweep of the school. The District also ensured that Clay's employment was quickly terminated.
On Wednesday, police took Clay into custody at Asante Rogue Regional just before he was to be discharged from the mental health unit. Medford Police charged him with a number of counts: Attempted Murder in the Second Degree, Attempted Assault in the First Degree, two counts of Unlawful Use of a Weapon, two counts of Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, and Tampering with Physical Evidence.
"It should be noted that Clay was in protective custody up to the point he was placed under arrest," MPD said. "The Medford Police Department would like to thank the many agencies involved in this case, and we are relieved a potentially catastrophic event was prevented."
According to police, Clay had marked out several potential sites for shootings — including South Medford High School. However, Clay had reportedly not identified any specific individuals as targets, with Lt. Budreau saying that Clay had chosen "areas, not people."
Though Clay ultimately came to the police station and told the officer about his alleged homicidal urges, Lt. Budreau underlined that the investigation had produced significant evidence of the custodian's planning, including a possible date for the attacks.
"Everything was culminating to the point where the only next step would be a mass shooting event," Budreau said.
Clay had no prior criminal convictions, but he was prohibited from possessing firearms due to a court determination of mental illness under Oregon law, which Budreau said occurred in 2019. Police said that he obtained the guns through "various channels," ordering parts online and sourcing intact guns from people he knew.
Medford School District hired Clay in February of this year, according to spokesperson Natalie Hurd. MSD conducted the usual background and reference checks that they do for District employees, Hurd said, but there were no red flags during Clay's hiring process. The court determination was not a criminal case and did not appear on the background check.
Budreau said that Medford Police officers had one interaction with Clay in 2019, when he was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge. Though he was taken into custody, he was not prosecuted for the charge and it does not appear on his criminal record.
Regardless, Clay's mental state was not entirely obscure. Budreau said that police have now interviewed several people who heard concerning statements from Clay, but did not take the threats seriously and did not report them to authorities.
"When we asked them why they didn't contact us or didn't do anything about it, it was their impression that it wasn't serious, that he was just being goofy or . . . there wasn't a real threat," Budreau said. "I'd just like to remind folks that any time you hear talk of mass or school shootings or anything that should be of concern, don't discount it — report it, let us look into it and see if it has any veracity, because what we saw in this case was that it absolutely did."
While Budreau said that it's common for people to disclose to Medford Police that they want to harm themselves, he reflected that the circumstances in this case are "very unusual," considering how Clay surrendered himself into protective custody within the context of a purportedly detailed plan for violence.
"Sometimes people indicate that they are a danger to others, but never to this extent, and never to this . . . being planned out, with this many specifics, and this many steps going towards that," Budreau said.
Clay appeared in court via video feed for his arraignment on Thursday. For the attempted murder charge, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $375,000.
When asked for his initial plea, Clay told the judge that he wanted to plead guilty to all charges. Judge Cromwell advised that he speak with an attorney before entering a guilty plea.
"These are extremely serious charges that are mandatory prison," Judge Cromwell said. "So I have a little bit of a concern, based on preliminary information that I've received, that would cause me some concern for you doing that today. If you want to just at least talk to an attorney to discuss your rights . . . it's not to say you can't plead guilty."
"Yes, your honor," Clay replied. " . . . I would like to discuss with an attorney."
The judge referred Clay to the public defender's office for representation. Prosecutors requested that Clay's bail be set at $2 million, which Judge Cromwell approved. If Clay were to post bail, he'd be placed on supervised release with relatively stringent requirements, including GPS monitoring.
Budreau said that there is still an ongoing investigation into the case, and some details that investigators have gathered so far are being withheld as the Jackson County District Attorney's Office pursues its case against Clay.