Rossmoyne Senior High School student’s descent into extremism that all started with toilet bomb

Caleb Runciman, Dylan Caporn and Lauren Price
The Nightly
7 Min Read
The teenage boy who The Nightly has chosen to call James was shot dead by police after stabbing a man in a carpark in Perth.
The teenage boy who The Nightly has chosen to call James was shot dead by police after stabbing a man in a carpark in Perth. Credit: The Nightly

Authorities are scrambling to explain how a smiling, happy boy went from baking a cake with his mother each week to being on a national terror watch list and declaring he was “on the path of jihad” when he stabbed a stranger before being shot dead by police.

Concerning revelations continue to emerge about a 16-year-old Rossmoyne Senior High School student, whom The Nightly has chosen to call James, spiralled out of control and into a dark descent towards extremism.

Friends and classmates at the Perth school, known for its academic achievements, said it was James’ decision to blow up a toilet on the grounds in late 2022 when he was just 14.

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A video showed James dropping the bomb into a toilet while a group of teenagers took cover behind a wall in the building.

The group yell out to James when he leans towards the toilet to see if the bomb is working before it explodes with a loud bang, causing him to jump backwards.

The decision to let off the bomb landed him on a police watch list and saw him enrolled in a national deradicalisation program only a handful of WA children are a part of.

James was in that program for two years until he was shot dead by police on Saturday night outside the Bunnings at Willetton. A stranger he stabbed in the back was found nearby. He remains in hospital in a stable condition.

Parents and politicians are now searching for answers as to how James spiralled with classmates telling The West on Monday that the teenager showed concerning behaviour in the years leading up to his death.

Children outside the school claimed they had seen him watching Islamic extremist content in class, which he reportedly kept on a USB.

“They were like ISIS videos, I’m kind of uneducated on that subject, but something along the lines of like Al-Qaeda groups and a lot of religious extremism,” the group said.

“He wasn’t really like that, I think he kind of went down a bit of a rabbit hole…he definitely had some mental health issues.

“We never reported anything… we kind of just laughed it off and thought he was kind of crazy, we never thought it would materialise into something.

“He never showed us but he’d always be watching it… you’d hear it going and stuff.”

James at a swimming pool
James at a swimming pool Credit: Unknown/Supplied

The group claimed teachers didn’t notice the content in class, with several students also not reporting the behaviour.

The West Australian has also seen a video of James wrapping a cloth over his face, similar to that of individuals who claim to be members of a terrorist organisation, during a school lockdown.

The teen was seen gesturing a hand signal as he was recorded wearing the facial covering in 2023.

It is understood students presented the idea of an explosive device to James who thought it would be “funny” to damage a toilet.

It is believed he and several students, faced disciplinary action at the school following the incident.

Parents have now turned their attention to the Education Department and police, who they say were informed a long time ago about James’ behaviour.

A threat made about graduation by a member of a group at the school was escalated to Education Minister Tony Buti’s office.

The Education Department responded late on Monday to questions over its management of the incident, as well as James, who police revealed was one of six juveniles participating in a deradicalisation program.

In a statement, the Department said the incident in the toilet block caused no damage and was investigated by WA Police.

“I can reassure parents there are very comprehensive protocols across many government agencies to identify students who may present a risk to others in relation to violent extremism. Once a student is referred, specialist teams within WA Police case-manage the young person,” Education director-general Lisa Rodgers said.

“This process for dealing with students where there are concerns about extremism has been in place between WA Police and the Department of Education since 2016 and in this particular case, all the proper protocols were followed.

“Since 2022, this student has been on an individual management plan which outlined rules in regard to his behaviour, monitored his attendance and online engagement, included routine check-ins to authorities and saw him provided with extensive psychological support.”

Classmates say a knife-wielding Perth teenager who attacked a stranger and police had watched frightening videos at school, but has also been described as kind and genuine.

As classmates returned to school on Monday, greeted by counsellors after the shooting death of their peer, students described James as a “kind-hearted” child who had “gone mad” from watching radical online content.

“We can’t really imagine just seeing him around school acting like that, but he’s just a genuine person and I believe he was just confused and just lost, and it wasn’t really the him that we know,” Year 11 student Kaleigh Weir said.

“He was quite a kind person and just genuine and just a friendly classmate . . . he had a lot of friends and was well known. I wouldn’t think he would have done something like this.

“His friend group is really tight . . . he was just a very friendly person and everyone just could talk to him, and he was a bit set back but he was still a kind, calm person.”

Year 11 student Paige Bond said she believed the things he had learnt online had “pulled him into a hard place” that he “felt he couldn’t get out of”.

Rossmoyne SHS parent Niranji Wickramasinghe said James was “not a bad child”.
Rossmoyne SHS parent Niranji Wickramasinghe said James was “not a bad child”. Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Parent Niranji Wickranasinghe said she believed James had converted to Islam a few years ago.

“I think they said he was watching some videos online . . . he’s not a bad kind of child . . . but because of these online issues, I think he has gone mad,” she said.

A Perth Meccano club that James attended, a hobby similar to Lego, said its members were “shocked” by his death.

“He was always a nice kid around the club,“ a spokesperson said.

“He’d even bake a cake on Saturday afternoons.”

A man, who wished to remain anonymous and who had known the boy since he was around 11 years old, said the teen was a “funny” and “confident” child.

“He was a very smart kid… I couldn’t believe the news when I heard it.”

People in the southern suburbs neighbourhood where James lived said they had seen him playing in the streets like a normal teen.

It is understood police regularly visited the family home in the two years prior to his death.

Flowers were delivered to the home on Monday morning after news broke of the horrific incident.

An elderly couple, believed to be grandparents of the 16-year-old, were also seen visiting his grieving mother.

Liberal leader Libby Mettam claimed parents’ concerns had been “fobbed off” to the Education Department from minister Tony Buti.

“I have spoken to some parents involved who have raised the alarm about these very real concerns that have been raised a number of times from the school community,” Ms Mettam said.

Rossmoyne SHS student Kaleigh Weir, left, speaks about James.
Rossmoyne SHS student Kaleigh Weir, left, speaks about James. Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

“We have an incident where a 16-year-old who had been in a deradicalisation program had been involved in creating a homemade bomb which had destroyed a toilet block.

“He had plans to interrupt an assembly in the most devastating of ways and had been able to continue to learn in a public mainstream school.

“There were a number of red flags raised by parents in this community and the Minister for Education continued to fob off those very real concerns.

“It is appalling to hear this government had repeatedly fobbed off this very real concerns of parents from this school community.”

Premier Roger Cook confirmed parents at Rossmoyne Senior High School repeatedly attempted to raise concerns about the 16-year-old teenager shot dead by police after stabbing a stranger in an act of “jihad”.

“As is appropriate, the minister automatically referred that letter to the Education Department for action,” the Premier said.

“The Education Department obviously took that information on board and continued to manage that young man.”

Asked whether there was an ongoing issue with Islamic extremism among a cohort of Rossmoyne students, Mr Cook said he would “leave that up to the Education Department to clarify”.

“Obviously, this young man was harbouring some extremist thoughts, which is the reason why he was part of the countering violent extremism program.

“It’s an important program to assist these people to manage their extreme thoughts.”

In a chilling final message sent shortly before he stabbed a random man in a Willetton carpark, James told friends he was “on the path of jihad”.

It is understood it may be several days before Police Commissioner Col Blanch makes a call on whether the incident would be declared a terror attack.

Police are understood to be working with several specialists, including psychologists behind the scenes before making the determination.

The West Australian understands police are still confident the teenager was acting alone.

That is despite the teenager sending a text message warning his friends to wipe their phones and computers because the police “will likely look into my contacts”.

“If you have any (thing) illegal on jihadi online or in real life please make sure to hide them well and clear your technology such as laptops and phones including search history,” he wrote.

Mr Blanch had said on Sunday that while the stabbing had the “hallmarks” of a terror attack however he did not “have the concerns of a broader network that might be involved”.

Imam Syed Wadood Janud of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Perth on Monday decried James’ message, saying: “We unequivocally denounce any insinuations to associate this man’s actions with the teachings of Islam.

“We stand firm in our belief that Islam promotes peace, tolerance, and compassion towards all of humanity. Our very motto is Love for all, Hatred for none,” the Imam said.

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