Lehigh Acres, FL – Two Eighth Grade boys are in police custody in Florida and stand accused of plotting a “Columbine-style” school shooting at their own school.
The incident began on Sept. 8 when a student told a teacher at Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres that a classmate had a gun in his backpack, ABC News reported.
The teacher notified the school resource officer, and the boys were detained, the Evening Standard reported.
Authorities and school administrators searched the accused student’s backpack and found no gun.
But Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said during a press conference on Sept. 9 that a map was found on one of the boys that “contains markings indicating the location of each of the school’s interior cameras,” ABC News reported.
Sheriff Marceno said an investigation determined that 13-year-old Conner Pruett and 14-year-old Phillip Byrd were “involved in a plot to carry out a school shooting,”
Both students were already known to authorities, ABC News reported.
Deputies had visited the two boys’ homes a combined 80 times in the past.
Sheriff Marceno said the pair had been “extensively studying” the 1999 Columbine High School shooting during which two teen gunman murdered 13 people, ABC News reported.
The sheriff said Pruett and Byrd were also trying to learn how to build pipe bombs.
A search of their homes turned up what Sheriff Marceno called “disturbing evidence, including a gun and several knives,” according to ABC News.
BREAKING @SheriffLeeFL announces 2 Harns Marsh Middle School students in Lehigh Acres FL arrested for plotting a mass shooting at school.
Teacher got tip that 8th grader had gun in their backpack. Deputies didn't find gun but the student had a detailed map of school cameras. pic.twitter.com/uwt0mbRoh8
— Honor with Action Coalition (@Honor_W_Action) September 9, 2021
“This could have turned disastrous,” he said. “We were one second away from a Columbine here.”
He also said the foiled attack could have been the “next Parkland massacre,” in reference to the 2018 Valentine’s Day shooting spree by a former student at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and staff dead, ABC News reported.
“But we stopped them in the planning stages,” the sheriff said.
Sheriff Marceno said both boys would be charged with conspiracy to commit a mass shooting, ABC News reported.
He said both boys met the criteria for a mental health evaluation and that investigators would look into a risk protection order to restrict their firearm and ammunition access.
They were taken into custody on Saturday and appeared before a judge on Sunday morning, WINK reported.
#BREAKING: Minutes ago the two teens accused of plotting a mass shooting at Harns Marsh Middle were just released from a mental health facility. Connor Pruitt and Phillip Byrd will be taken to a juvenile detention center now @NBC2 pic.twitter.com/oJz0P14eo5
— Cristina Mendez (@CrisMendezTV) September 11, 2021
The judge ordered both boys held on for 21 days in juvenile detention.
Byrd’s mother, Carrie Tuller, was in the courtroom for the hearing and defended her son against the charges, WINK reported.
“He’s just a little boy,” Tuller said. “He didn’t think this was really serious. He didn’t think they were serious.”
She said that she was going to change her son’s school, WINK reported.
Both boys have been banned from Harns Marsh Middle School by the judge as conditions of their eventual release and ordered not to have contact with any students or staff.
Pruett and Byrd’s next court date is scheduled for Sept. 27, WINK reported.
Lee County Schools Superintendent Ken Savage commended the students who alerted the teacher and the “quick action by our staff.”
“Students were safe at all times,” Savage said. “All the threat assessment and emergency response training made a difference in the outcome of this incident.”