Two Florida middle school students have been ordered to remain at a juvenile detention center after allegedly planning to carry out a mass shooting mirroring the 1999 Columbine massacre.
Phillip Byrd, 14 and Connor Pruett, 13, who are eighth-grade students at Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres, near Fort Myers, appeared in front of a judge on Sunday morning.
The judge ordered the two to be held for at least 21 days in a juvenile detention center.
School administration took it seriously when they found Byrd and Pruett with a map of the school marked up to show each of its security cameras.
After alerting Lee County police, detectives discovered that the boys were thoroughly studying the Columbine shooting, attempting to learn how to build a pipe bomb and researching how to buy guns on the black market.
Police also searched the boys’ homes and found guns, ammunition and several knives.
But Byrd’s mother Carrie Tuller broke down in tears as she defended her son in court on Sunday.
‘He’s just a little boy,’ she said. ‘He didn’t think this was really serious. He didn’t think they were serious.’
Eighth-graders Phillip Byrd, 14, (left) and Connor Pruett, 13, (right) will be held for 21 days in a juvenile detention center after allegedly attempting to carry out a mass shooting mirroring the 1999 Columbine massacre
The two boys appeared in front of a judge on Sunday morning
Connor Pruett, 13, (left) and Phillip Byrd, 14, are facing charges of conspiracy to commit a mass shooting
The boys were detained on Thursday for a mental health evaluation and taken into custody on Saturday.
They are being charged with conspiracy to commit a mass shooting.
Both were ordered to have no contact with school staff or students and required to stay off school grounds. They will remain at a juvenile detention facility and their next court date is Sept. 27 at 9am, according to local news station WINK.
Following the boys’ arrest, Lee County Superintendent Kenneth Savage tweeted, ‘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.’
A tip-off from a fellow student led to a discovery of map of the school with markings on it showing the school’s security cameras and other ‘disturbing evidence’ including guns and several knives found at the suspects’ homes. Pictured: Deputies searching one of the homes
Sherriff Marceno said that he is certain that police intervention prevented another deadly school shooting from taking place. Pictured: Weapons investigators allegedly found at the students’ homes
Pictured: Knives allegedly found by police during a search at the two eighth-grader’s homes
Pictured: Boxes of ammunition found at one of the boys’ homes
Pictured: Guns allegedly found at the students’ homes. Sherriff Marceno said legal investigators will be looking into a risk protection order, which restricts access to firearm for those who pose a danger to themselves or others
Max Schachter, whose son Alex was 14 when he was murdered in the 2018 Parkland shooting, commended the actions that prevented another tragedy like the one that took his child.
He tweeted, ‘@DrKenSavage @LeeSchools my son was murdered in the Parkland school shooting. Please thank Principal Alex Dworzanski for his attention to the safety and security of @HarnsMarshMS students yesterday. Great job!’
The alleged shooting plot was discovered after students tipped off an eight-grade teacher on Wednesday, claiming that one of their classmates had a gun in their book bag.
The school resource officer and administration were alerted to the potential threat which led to an investigation from deputies.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno (pictured) said the students took an interest in the Columbine High School shooting and were ‘extensively studying’ the incident
They did not find a weapon in the student’s book bag, but found the school map showing each of the building’s security cameras.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said police also discovered other ‘disturbing evidence’ following a search at the suspects’ homes including guns, ammunition and several knives.
In a news conference, Sheriff Marceno said: ‘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.
‘Detectives also learned the students were attempting to learn how to construct pipe bombs and how to purchase firearms on the black market.’
The Columbine High School massacre was a school shooting and attempted bombing that occurred on April 20, 1999, in Columbine, Colorado.
The two shooters, twelfth-grade students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, aged 18 and 17, murdered 12 students and one teacher and then subsequently committed suicide.
It was the deadliest mass shooting at a US high school until 2018 when 17 people were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – which is located approximately 120 miles away from Lehigh Acres.
The middle school students were allegedly planning a mass shooting at Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres, Florida (pictured)
Following the boys’ arrest, Lee County Superintendent Kenneth Savage tweeted his thanks to the police who foiled the alleged mass shooting plot
Max Schachter, whose son Alex was 14 when he was murdered in the 2018 Parkland shooting, also commended the police in a tweet
Sheriff Marceno said that he is certain that police intervention prevented another deadly school shooting from taking place, saying: ‘This could have turned disastrous. We were one second away from a Columbine here.’
He continued: ‘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.
‘This could have been the next Parkland massacre, but we stopped them in the planning stages.’
The sheriff said the two middle school students are ‘well known’ to police as deputies had responded to calls to their homes nearly 80 times combined.
Sherriff Marceno said legal investigators will be looking into a risk protection order, which restricts access to firearms for those who pose a danger to themselves or others.
At the news conference on Thursday, Superintendent Dr. Ken Savage thanked Sherriff Marceno and his team for their ‘quick response and actions to protect our students and staff.’
‘As soon as students reported the potential threat, the teacher notified administrators, who immediately brought in the school resource officer,’ he said.
‘Together they emptied the classroom and investigated. Students were safe at all times.’
He continued: ‘I commend the students who came forward to report the potential threat and the quick action by our staff and SROs to prevent harm to our campus.’