I would like to apologize to my readers for overreacting and jumping to conclusions in a blog entry early Wednesday morning about the case of Ashton Lundeby, a 16-year-old North Carolina homeschooler who was arrested by the FBI on March 5 and who has been incarcerated in a juvenile lock-up in Indiana since then.
It appears that I was misled, along with hundreds of other civil liberties-oriented bloggers, by the initial news reports that appeared on line. These news reports, from WRAL-TV in Raleigh and The Daily Dispatch (a local newspaper that covers Oxford, the Lundeby family's hometown), relied too heavily on the word of Annette Lundeby, Ashton's mother, and neglected to perform the due diligence that one expects from established news media outlets.
Fortunately, Wired magazine and other sources have done some additional digging into the case and have found that Annette Lundeby seems to be prone to both exaggeration and omission.
First of all, Ashton was not arrested under the terms of the USA PATRIOT Act. He was arrested and charged under a far older (circa 1939) statute addressing the making of threats using telecommunications equipment. (He may, however, still face other charges, and it is not impossible that the PATRIOT Act will be cited against him.)
Second, it appears that Annette Lundeby was aware that her son had been making bomb threats over the Internet (using voice-over IP software) and had warned him against it, even suggesting to him that if he continued to do so, he could run afoul of the law.
William Grigg of Pro Libertate, who was one of the first bloggers to break this story, has also updated his initial report to note that there are serious questions being raised about the veracity of Annette Lundeby's media outreach efforts.
Fortunately, there are professional journalists like Kevin Poulsen of Wired who take the time to check facts and do analysis beyond hysteria. It's embarrassing to have to admit to being victimized by a too-bad-to-be-true story of a peachfuzzed adolescent abused by the law and whose mother paints him with a halo over his head, but this seems to be the case.
I am not willing to agree that Ashton Lundeby is guilty of any of the charges he faces now or in the future, but I am willing to say that I wrote too soon, without having better knowledge of the case.
At the moment, however, I think I've been punk'd.
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