A Colorado-Boulder student arrested for making allegedly threatening comments during a classroom discussion is a “really nice guy” with a “tongue-in-cheek, twisted sense of humor,” a friend said Wednesday.
Max Karson, a psychology major, was arrested after witnesses told investigators they felt threatened to be in class with him after a class discussion about the Virginia Tech shootings, a CU police official said.
“He raised his hand and said he could easily understand how people can get mad enough to kill 32 people,” said Cmdr. Brad Wiesley of the CU Police Department.
“He said things like the walls and the lights were making him angry enough that he could kill people. Many of the students in that class felt personally threatened and were afraid to go back to class.”
But friends described Karson, an editor of a small publication that sparks debate on controversial issues such as race and ethnicity, as a friendly guy with a wicked sense of humor.
“I thought, ‘oh, geez, there’s Max again,'” said Laura Kellogg, a CU student and friend of Karson’s, about hearing of her friend’s arrest. “He’s all about satire.”
After Karson made his comments, other students questioned him. One asked if he would come to class with a gun on Thursday and kill people, to which he responded, “Maybe not this Thursday,” Wiesley said.
A message left on Karson’s father’s answering machine was not returned by Wednesday night.
He was arrested on Tuesday after a meeting with the vice chancellor of student affairs and police officials.
Karson appeared in court at 2 p.m. on Wednesday and is free on bail. He’s accused of interfering with faculty, staff or students at an educational institution, a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
“Max is probably the most intelligent and kind person I know and he has everyone’s best interests at heart,” said Stephanie Coyle, a CU student and friend of Karson’s. “He addresses issues that people are afraid to talk about.”
Karson is the editor of The Yeti, a small newsletter that he hand distributes personally on the CU campus. In it, he writes – often times clearly satirically – about everything from relationships to politics.
Students at CSU interviewed Wednesday evening were divided about the arrest.
“It’s a good thing he was arrested,” said Danny Littler, a sophomore speech communication major. “There’s always talk about the warning signs and why action wasn’t taken.”
But Audrey Rudolph, a senior international studies major, said he thinks police overreacted.
“If he said it at any other time, he wouldn’t have been arrested,” he said. “People are just on ‘high alert’ right now.”
Wiesley from the CU Police Department said First Amendment protection doesn’t necessarily apply in this case.
“You can’t say anything you want wherever you want to,” he said. “You can’t go in a theater and yell fire and cause a stampede that would hurt people. . There is a line that you can’t go beyond.”
Staff writers Vimal Patel and Jim Holt can be reached at email@example.com.