Two young teenagers have been arrested for allegedly plotting a “Columbine-style massacre” at their middle school.
Conner Pruett, 13, and Phillip Byrd, 14, were allegedly planning a mass school shooting, but thanks to the help of other students and teachers, were caught before violence could take place.
According to ABC News last week, a teacher at Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres, near Fort Myers, was alerted by students that an eighth-grader may have had a concealed weapon on campus. After informing other administrators and the school’s resource officer, faculty searched a backpack for a gun on Wednesday, September 8. While they did not find a weapon, what they discovered was just as concerning.
Sheriff Carmine Marceno announced that during the search, administrators discovered a map containing “markings indicating the location of each of the school’s interior cameras.” This evidence prompted a police search of both the teens’ homes, where they found more “disturbing evidence, including a gun and several knives.”
Investigators also claimed Pruett and Byrd were “extensively studying” the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, in which two teens killed 13 people. Along with the discovered weaponry, evidence also proves they were learning how to construct pipe bombs and buy guns from the black market, leading authorities to one conclusion: they were “involved in a plot to carry out a school shooting” of their own. Sheriff Marceno remarked during a press conference:
“This could have turned disastrous. We were one second away from a Columbine here.”
The Sheriff also admitted the boys were well-known to deputies, who had visited their homes almost 80 times combined. He did not reveal what those house calls were related to. Both have been arrested and are being held in a secure juvenile detention center for the next 21 days. They will each undergo a mental health evaluation, along with upcoming charges, the Sheriff added:
“They will both be charged with conspiracy to commit a mass shooting.”
The minors were taken into custody on Saturday. They made their first appearance in court on Sunday. According to WINK, a judge believed the teens committed a juvenile act. Meanwhile, Byrd’s mother Carrie Tuller defended her son in court, tearfully arguing:
“He’s just a little boy. He didn’t think this was really serious. He didn’t think they were serious.”
Continuing to stick up for her child, the outlet reported she plans to take action against the school. Meanwhile, Marceno likened the alleged plans to another tragedy, the Parkland school shooting, which saw a teen kill 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018, saying:
“This could have been the next Parkland massacre, but we stopped them in the planning stages.”
There are a lot of people to thank for the safe investigation and arrests too. Lee County Superintendent Ken Savage took a moment to acknowledge those brave enough to come forward with the report, as well as the “quick action by our staff” once learning of the potential threat.
Thanks to the school’s emergency training (which has sadly become a necessary norm in this country), he told reporters:
“Students were safe at all times.”
The administrators even had students evacuated from the classroom while they searched the backpack for a deadly weapon. Situations at Harns Marsh Middle School remained calm and safe for all involved, he concluded:
“All the threat assessment and emergency response training made a difference in the outcome of this incident.”
To the heroes @HarnsMarshMS, THANK YOU! Your actions saved lives and for that @LeeSchools are forever grateful. All honor to @SheriffLeeFL and staff-students that intervened. pic.twitter.com/Y6J3t3ybL0
— Dr. Kenneth Savage (@DrKenSavage) September 9, 2021
The arrested teenagers have been ordered to stay away from each other and the school. They cannot make contact with any of the staff, as well. Investigators are looking into getting a risk protection order for them, which would restrict both from accessing firearms and ammunition because they pose a danger to themselves or others.
Their next court date is expected to take place on September 27. To see evidence found inside the home searches, watch the video (below).
[Image via ABC News]
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