If John Hoehle could change one thing about the day he and two neighborhood buddies were arrested, he would have been in class.
"If I had gotten on the school bus that morning, that would have solved the whole problem," said the 11-year-old while sitting in his living room Thursday just a few hours after his release from the Regional Youth Detention Center.
Skipping school that Monday was the first bad decision in a chain of events that landed John, 11-year-old Aaron Lytle and his 13-year-old brother, Nathan, in the detention center for a plot authorities said they devised to kidnap and hold their families hostage.
After six weeks in a juvenile prison, John was released on two to five years probation by a state Department of Juvenile screening committee. As part of his probation, John and his family will have to attend therapy.
John said Thursday he never meant to hurt anyone and has learned a lot from this experience.
"I learned that my family loves me more than I know and I have billions of friends at church," he said.
John pulled out a book his mother, Roberta, had given him Thursday titled No Matter What and read it out loud.
The book tells the story of a small fox who questions his mother's love. The mother assures him she will love him no matter what he does. Mrs. Hoehle cried as she listened to her son.
Aaron Lytle also appeared before the screening committee Thursday, said John's attorney Danny Durham, but did not know the outcome of the hearing.
Aaron's attorney Richard Pacheco did not return several phone calls to his office Thursday. The Lytles also did not return a message left at their home Thursday.
Nathan was sentenced to 60 months in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Nathan's attorney John Lewis did not return several messages left at his office Wednesday and Thursday.
Under the sentence handed down May 2 by Juvenile Court Judge Jim Blanchard Jr., John and Aaron were turned over to the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice. The terms of the sentence were to be determined by the screening committee.
A screening committee of officials with the Department of Juvenile Justice looks at four areas when deciding punishment: the child's history of any previous offenses, the offenses committed, and the educational and mental health needs.
John will be able to return to school, but it won't be to Lakeside Middle, where he was a sixth-grader. Instead he'll attend Columbia County's alternative school, Crossroads Academy, for one semester.
In the meantime, Mrs. Hoehle doesn't plan to let her son out of her sight.
"If he does, he better be in his daddy's or his granny's sight," she said.
And the first thing John planned to do? "When my dad gets home I want to play with my radio-controlled car," John said Thursday afternoon.
The boys were arrested March 27 after authorities discovered a plot to kidnap and hold their families hostage. Their plans were uncovered after John's 15-year-old sister, Susan, found the three boys at home when they should have been at school.
When she tried to call her parents, her brother pointed a gun at her. She ran to a neighbor's and called authorities.
The boys were later found with the gun in a wooded area near their homes off Flowing Wells Road. Deputies found a locked box in Nathan's bedroom containing knives, ammunition and detailed drawings of how they planned to carry out their plot.
On May 2, the boys pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and possession of a firearm by a person under the age of 18. In exchange for the pleas, Assistant District Attorney Brian Bush agreed to drop charges of conspiracy to commit false imprisonment and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.
Now that her son has been allowed to come home, Mrs. Hoehle said the six weeks he was away were difficult for her and the rest of the family.
"There's a part of you that's not here," she said. "They basically stripped me of my parental rights."
She only got to see her son for two hours a week and was concerned that detention center officials were over-medicating her son.
He takes medicine for attention deficit hyperactive disorder but only takes it to stay on task in school, she said. At the detention center, officials insisted he take it every day.
With John back at home, Mrs. Hoehle plans to try to get life back to normal. John will have to re-earn her trust, she said, and that will take a long time.
Reach Jennifer Miller and Ashlee Griggs at (706) 868-1222.
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