Two Florida teens have been taken into custody after local authorities claimed the pair were plotting a Columbine-style school shooting.
The two boys, ages 13 and 14, were charged Thursday with conspiracy to commit a mass shooting after another student told a teacher that one of the boys had a gun in his backpack.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno revealed details of the arrests during a press conference, saying the incident took place at Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres, just east of Fort Myers.
“This could have been the next Parkland massacre, but we stopped them in the planning stages,” said Marceno, referring to the 2018 shooting that left 17 people dead at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “We were one second away from a Columbine here. I’m certain that my team of dedicated deputies and detectives acted promptly, investigated thoroughly and prevented a very violent and dangerous act from being carried out.”
Lee County deputies searched the accused student’s backpack and didn’t find a gun, but instead found a map of the school with security cameras circled. Police also searched the boys’ homes and found several knives and a gun. They had also allegedly been researching how to buy guns on the black market and construct homemade pipe bombs.
“Detectives learned the students took an interest in the Columbine High School shooting. They were extensively studying to learn more about the incident and the shooters,” said Marceno.
The infamous Columbine school shooting took place on April 20, 1999, when two students killed 13 people before turning their guns on themselves.
In the video shown during the press conference (top), one of the boys’ rooms is filled with gun paraphernalia, including dozens of bullets, a poster of different kinds of ammunition, some knives and a large Confederate flag emblazoned with “The South Will Rise Again.”
“They were planning this; they might have been planning this all summer just waiting for school to open. My kid could have been a child who got hurt or any kid,” a resident said to local CBS affiliate KMOV4.
According to KMOV4, police said they have responded to both of the teens’ homes nearly 80 times between the two of them over the years.
The boys were sent for a mental health evaluation. The outcomes of those tests are not known at this time.
The principal of the middle school, Alex Dworzanski, praised the student for coming forward and potentially averting tragedy.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.