LEHIGH ACRES, Fla – Two Florida boys were arrested Thursday after advice from a classmate led authorities to uncover a Columbine-type plot to shoot their college.
The boys, aged 13 and 14, are charged with conspiracy to commit a mass shooting, Lee County officials say. They are held in a juvenile detention center for at least 21 days.
NBC 2 in Fort Myers reported that the couple underwent psychiatric assessments before being taken into custody.
It is not known whether authorities plan to prosecute the boys as minors or adults. While Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marcelo identified teens by name at a press conference last week, court documents in the case appear to be confidential.
The names of the boys are withheld here because of their age.
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MPs were called on Wednesday to Harns Marsh College in Lehigh Acres after anonymous students told a teacher that one of the boys might have a gun in his backpack. Lehigh Acres is located approximately 15 miles east of Fort Myers in South Florida.
The teacher acted immediately, said Ken Savage, Lee County School District superintendent.
“As soon as the students reported the potential threat, the teacher notified the administrators, who immediately contacted the school’s resource manager. ” Savage said. “Together, they emptied the classroom and investigated.
“The students were safe at all times. “
When MPs searched the eighth grade student’s bag, they did not find any weapons.
What they found was a map of the school.
“The map contained markings indicating the location of each of the school’s interior cameras,” Marcelo said. “We take every tip and every threat seriously, so we didn’t stop there. “
The detectives searched the homes of the two boys. Searches revealed a gun and several knives.
The older boy’s Instagram page shows images of what appear to be multiple weapons, including a shotgun, handguns, guns and knives, including what looks like a homemade knife. Several of the same images were shared by authorities on Thursday.
Watch Thursday’s press conference below.
At least some of the photos were taken in the same room as the one pictured by police during the search of the boy’s home.
On his dresser, the boy had an expired Florida car tag with the words “Support Education” on it. The metal seemed to be riddled with bullet or lead holes.
A Confederate flag with the slogan “The South will rise again” was on the teenager’s wall.
Marcelo compared the alleged plot to the February 14, 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a total of 14 students and three staff were killed.
“It could have been the next Parkland massacre, but we stopped them at the planning stage,” Marcelo said Thursday.
Former Parkland student Nikolas Cruz, 22, is being held in Broward County Jail awaiting trial.
Marcelo said teens in Lehigh Acres were learning how to make homemade bombs and researching how to get guns on the black market.
The investigation also showed that the boys had a keen interest in the April 20, 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. In one of America’s most notorious school shootings, Columbine students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot dead 12 students and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves.
Harris and Klebold had also planted several bombs in the school, but the homemade devices did not detonate as expected.
The students at Harns Marsh Middle were “intensively studying” the 1999 shooting, as well as the backgrounds of Harris and Klebold, Marcelo said Thursday.
“It could have turned out to be a disaster. We were a second from a Columbine here ”, the sheriff said.
Lee County MPs knew the two boys very well, Marcelo said. Together, the deputies had to answer almost 80 times at the homes of the teenagers.
Detectives determined in interviews with the boys that they met the criteria to be sent for mental assessments, the sheriff said.
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Marcelo praised the quick actions of the teacher who reported the tip, as well as the subsequent work of his own department.
“I am certain that my team of dedicated assistants and detectives acted quickly, investigated thoroughly and prevented the commission of a very violent and dangerous act,” he said.
Savage praised the students who reported the threat, as well as everyone who worked to keep the campus safe.
“You are all heroes” the superintendent said.
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