Editor’s note: This article contains mentions of sexual assault and violence. Reader discretion is advised.
Kelly asked to be referred to by the name “Lacey McTease” and with the pronouns she/her. However, after finding an email sent to professors in which Kelly says he uses the “transgender card” to get out of trouble and consulting several LGBTQ+ journalists, The Alligator decided to use his legal name.
At first, she thought she was helping someone with their anxiety.
In a social media messaging app called Discord, a user named YAK said on a UF-themed online server that he was having a panic attack, or a sudden feeling of intense fear. The UF student quickly messaged him to ask if he was okay.
A week later the user, whose real name is James Kelly, admitted that he was lying about the panic attack — and his messages to her and other server members only got stranger over time, said the student, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
“He was just saying weird things about being a prophet of God,” she said. “We didn't know if he was serious or if he was joking.”
But then the online interaction escalated when he threatened to rape her.
He also introduced her online to a 14-year-old girl he said he was grooming, or preparing for his sexual advances. The UF student told The Alligator that she contacted UF’s Title IX office after that, but it went nowhere.
The Title IX office, which is responsible for upholding the federal civil rights law that bans sex discrimination in schools — including threats of sexual assault — declined to comment.
“The police [weren’t] believing any of us. Nothing was happening,” she said. “I felt scared to go downstairs in my apartment alone.”
That was early last summer, and the student is one of many whom Kelly has contacted over at least the past three years. But despite being banned from most UF properties since 2017, Kelly is still enrolled as a student at UF, university spokesperson Steve Orlando confirmed.
The Alligator obtained dozens of documents and court records dating back to 2005 that reflect a pattern of physical violence, harassment and threats from Kelly, who is a 36-year-old business finance student living in Bowling Green, Florida, a small city about three hours south of Gainesville.
Among the documents is a report that details Kelly’s warning to the university about a shooting threat, several police records that describe battery against his wife and at least two others, and multiple threats to rape UF students.
Kelly said that some of his online statements, including his claim of having sex with his cousin when she was 12 and he was 13, being a pedophile and wanting to sexually groom his own daughters are just to get attention, he said.
“I say things to my haters and bashers to get them upset so I receive more negative attention,” he told The Alligator. “I'm a narcissist, and I get joy out of saying salacious stuff.”
He did admit to The Alligator that he threatened to rape the UF student.
According to a letter that Kelly posted to his Discord server dated April 6, UF is investigating him on multiple code of conduct charges, including harassment, “endangering behavior” and sexual harassment.
Dean of Students Heather White declined to comment on Kelly’s case.
The university has known about Kelly for quite some time, according to University Police spokesperson Maj. Brad Barber, who noted that they’re “very familiar with Mr. Kelly and the activities he's engaged in over the last few years.”
However, UPD doesn’t have an open investigation into Kelly, UPD Cpt. Kristy Sasser said.
Based on her knowledge of his history and mental health, she said many of Kelly’s activities haven’t met the elements of a crime. Because of this, UPD has never filed any criminal charges against him.
The Hardee County Sheriff’s Office, where Bowling Green is within its jurisdiction, confirmed April 9 that it had opened an investigation into Kelly after receiving several complaints, said Makayla Chancey, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office.
But Kelly’s online messages to UF students and others continue.
“I am the most powerful student at the University of Florida”: Kelly’s messages
When UF student Cameron White made a UF Discord group in December — separate from the one the former UF student was on — everything was fine for a while, he said. Then in February, Kelly showed up.
“He was just being very erratic in the way that he was talking, and in writing,” the 21-year-old computer science senior said. “So at that point, we just went ahead and banned him.”
The following month, Kelly started to appear in the group under different aliases. White reported him to Hardee County deputies, but one officer hung up before White could finish telling him everything and nothing got done, he said.
Then Kelly found out about the report and began to threaten him.
“Once he realized that I had blocked him, he sent a message to my friend threatening to rape me and then tried to walk it back and say, ‘Oh, that was just a joke,’” White said. “But that’s not a joke.”
So on April 5, he made a Reddit post warning others of Kelly, saying he had been messaging dozens of people for months.
Chief John Scheel with the Bowling Green Police Department said Kelly doesn’t have internet access at the house where he lives with his parents. Because of this, he’s been traveling to Wauchula, Florida, the city a few miles south of his home to use the internet at restaurants and other places there.
On Kelly’s Discord server, he posts screenshots of messages and emails that he sends UF students, professors and others.
In an email that Kelly sent to a UF business professor on March 27, he threatened to terrorize and rape the professor’s family if he didn’t send an email to a doctor. What he wanted the professor to say to the doctor wasn’t specified.
“Do you know why terrorists choose to implement terrorism? Because it f***ing works,” Kelly wrote. “Yesterday was masturbation, today is a threesome, tomorrow is anal rape & vaginal torture.”
The professor did not respond to The Alligator’s attempts to contact him. Kelly told The Alligator that he sent that email as a joke to entertain people on his Discord server.
“I just guess I was bored and stupid,” Kelly told The Alligator. “So I just thought maybe email my professor something silly so I can take a screenshot of it.”
On Kelly’s Discord server, someone asked him to stop harassing UF students. Kelly said he wouldn’t.
“No, I know what I’m doing, and I can’t get any trouble because schizophrenia,” he wrote. “I have paperwork that is like the ‘get out of jail free’ card from monopoly.”
Kelly sent The Alligator paperwork from UF Shands Hospital saying that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2017. James Kelly Sr., Kelly’s father, told The Alligator his son was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder about two years ago.
“He’s been a source of frustration to me and his mother, but by golly, we love him and we know we’re not giving up on him,” Kelly Sr. said. “I believe where there’s life, there’s hope.”
Kelly said he is on a 30-day plan to quit Reddit and Discord, which he describes as obsessions.
“[She’s] worth going to jail for every couple of months”: Kelly’s criminal history
Kelly has an extensive criminal history ranging back to 2005. The following is a list of some police reports on him.
2005: Kelly was arrested twice in 2005 by the Gainesville Police Department for domestic battery — once in July when he was accused of striking his wife in the neck and another time in December when authorities say he shaved off her eyebrows while threatening to strangle her, according to court records.
He was later convicted on both charges and placed on county-supervised probation for a year each time. While en route to jail during the second arrest, he told police the victim was “worth going to jail for every couple of months,” the arrest report read.
2009: Orange County court records show that in 2009, Kelly was arrested by deputies after reportedly hitting a strip club bouncer with his car. The bouncer had followed him outside after he failed to pay his check. He was eventually found guilty of battery and sentenced to 110 days in jail.
According to court records, this was the only case that resulted in Kelly serving time.
“His actions in this case also cause me great concern for the safety of the public,” wrote former assistant state attorney Carly Wish in an email to a judicial assistant, according to court records. Wish, who is now a county judge for Orange County, declined to comment on Kelly’s case.
2017: In January 2017, UPD officers responded to the Levin College of Law school library twice in a day after receiving separate reports about two suspicious people — one of whom they believed to be Kelly.
According to the UPD incident report, the department first received complaints about a man walking around campus taking photos of female students. They later received reports about a person wearing a black trench coat in the library, who students believed to have a connection with the first man.
The man in the trench coat, who was identified by police as a UF student, told authorities that Kelly had been sending him photos of females in the library, the report read. He later went to UPD’s patrol building and advised officers that he had additional information about Kelly comitting a sex crime on a minor.
He showed them texts, one of which read, "I may end up in prison dude she was underage."
The officer who wrote the report noted explaining to the UF student several times that “masturbating, cheating on your wife, and having a 3some’ were not crimes recognized by the state of Florida.”
However, the report doesn’t mention whether authorities ever investigated the allegations made about Kelly’s sex act with a minor.
When officers went to Kelly’s home later that day to serve him a trespass notification form, or documentation of his ban from UF campus, they reported hearing what they believed to be a shotgun racking a round, according to the report.
Despite being asked by the officers to step outside, Kelly refused, telling them to leave the form at his doorstep, the report read. The officer who wrote the report noted that he wouldn’t leave the notification at Kelly’s door due to the possible shotgun noise they heard.
However, the report doesn’t state whether Kelly ended up opening the door or if the officers left the form. It does note that the Dean of Students Office was notified of the incident.
2018: Kelly was arrested in Bowling Green in February 2018 for misuse of an emergency line after making calls to several police departments talking about threats of a shooting at UF, according to a UPD incident report. However, the reports filed by UPD and Bowling Green Police Department that day tell conflicting stories.
According to the UPD report, Kelly notified the Virginia Tech Police Department of a recording in which he and someone named “Eli” discussed plans to “shoot up” UF or the University of Central Florida.
He chose to reach out to VTPD in particular, he told them, because they’re a “respectable agency” that “takes threats seriously” after a 2007 school shooting on their campus, the report read.
However, according to a Bowling Green Police Department arrest report filed that day, Kelly told Bowling Green authorities that he had information about possible violence against Florida universities and a recording of UF students who discussed a potential shooting or bombing.
Kelly first told The Alligator that he didn’t remember what he called about, but later said he was calling the Virginia Tech Police Department to warn them of untrue rumors that he was going to shoot a school.
UF’s Dean of Students Office and Behavioral Consultant Team, a threat assessment group that looks into potential dangers to UF, were notified of Kelly’s arrest, according to the report. It does not say if they took action.
Cherita Stout, the attorney assigned to this case, declined to speak about Kelly or any details surrounding his arrest.
2020: Kelly’s 2017 ban from UF properties expired in January and a new one was issued on March 27 — one day after UPD filed an incident report involving Kelly. The report stated suspicious activity following complaints about Kelly sending threatening emails to UF professors in which he mentioned firing a “warning shot,” according to the report.
When UPD reached out to the Bowling Green Police Department to inform them of the emails and request a wellness check on Kelly, they asked if Kelly had access to firearms. According to the report, Bowling Green authorities told UPD that Kelly’s family are “avid hunters” and had many firearms in the home.
Kelly’s mother later told police that she would relocate all firearms to a safe place, according to the report.
“Anytime someone threatens violence or is violent, it’s serious”: UF’s inaction
Some UF students aren’t satisfied with the way the university has handled Kelly’s case.
One student, who asked to remain anonymous, was a moderator in the UF Discord server that Kelly contacted. She said she didn’t feel that UPD took her seriously when she reported him in February.
“The officer was busier talking to one of my dorm’s RA’s than he was doing his job and paying attention to the case,” she said. “The officer said that I should email him proof, and he would get back to me, but he never got back to me.”
She said she feels that the school offers to listen to students until it’s inconvenient.
“It's frustrating to see your university pride itself on student safety,” she said, “but the second there's a threat, they'd rather take the money that he's giving to the school rather than keeping a bunch of women on campus safe.”
Kelly told The Alligator that his recent code of conduct hearing and his trespass order in 2017 were the only times he’s gotten in trouble with UF. But years of threats can be “very concerning,” according to Richard Holbert, the medical director of UF Health Shands Psychiatric Hospital.
“In my opinion, anytime someone threatens violence or is violent, it’s serious,” he said.
Holbert is not Kelly’s personal psychiatrist. However, he said that even when someone is in a manic episode, they often know the consequences of their actions.
“Threats should give us an indication that they’re potentially dangerous,” he said. “One of the most important things regarding risk of violence is [if] they have been violent in the past.”
Under Florida law, it’s a crime to issue “written threats to kill, do bodily injury, or conduct a mass shooting or act of terrorism,” according to a state statute.
However, according to the UF police crime log, reports of threatening speech rarely result in arrest.
Since 2014, fewer than 10 percent of all reports made to UPD about harassment or threats made through phone or email resulted in any action. Of the 93 complaints logged during the past six years, nine resulted in a sworn complaint filed while 14 led to no charges, 13 were withdrawn and 50 are still listed as pending.
More than half of the pending cases date back to 2014, 2015 or 2016. UPD Cpt. Kristy Sasser said those older cases are “probably closed in some fashion,” whether through complaint withdrawal or all leads exhausted.
None of the reports led to an arrest, according to the crime log. Sasser said that often, people don’t want to file charges.
“A lot of times, people just want the activity to stop,” she said. “And when it does, they’re satisfied.”
There are different ranks of threats, according to Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information. In court, a threat is only considered “true” if considered credible to a “reasonable person” and if the person making the threat has the physical capacity to carry it out, he said.
Each case is determined by context — the same exact words could be considered a true threat or not based on the situation, he said. It also depends on whether the comment was part of a larger pattern of repeated speech or behavior.
“If they hear what sounds like a threat from somebody that is known to have had a history of violent behavior, that seems much more serious,” LoMonte said.
But Ron Kozlowski, a Gainesville attorney who has previously defended UF students and faculty in misconduct cases, said the university is still faced with a challenge when it comes to cases like Kelly’s. It has a dual role in protecting its students’ rights — including Kelly’s — but also ensuring overall student safety.
“How do you protect the student population at large and make it not at the expense of individual students and their liberties?” he said.
UF’s website displays a list of sanctions, or penalties, for students who violate the student honor or conduct code.
According to the page, educational penalties, which are intended to help students learn from their decisions, can result in an assignment or psychological evaluation. On the other hand, status penalties, which impact a student standing at the university, range from written reprimand to expulsion.
Heather White, the university’s dean of students, told The Alligator via email that each case is different, and every student “has the ability to share information that is relevant to case resolution during the process” in regard to mental health. She did not say how that information could be applied during the case and did not respond to further contact attempts.
White also said students can request accommodations if they are disabled, but did not say if that applies to mental health or what accommodations someone with a mental illness can receive.
But no matter what the university decides to do with Kelly’s case, Cameron White said he has simple advice for people being contacted by Kelly and others like him.
“Just block him immediately,” he said. “Say nothing, block him immediately, and forget he ever existed.”
Contact Alex DeLuca and Hope Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Follow them on Twitter @AlexLDeLuca and @hope_m_dean.