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‘This Could Have Turned Disastrous’: Two Middle Schoolers Studied Columbine Shooting When Plotting Similar Attack, Deputies Say


A middle school recently avoided tragedy, say local authorities. Two teenage boys plotted a shooting, and in preparing for this, they even studied a similar attack from more than two decades ago, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. Connor Pruett, 13, and Phillip Byrd, 14, were arrested and each face a count of conspiracy to commit a mass shooting, officials said Thursday.

“This could have turned disastrous,” Sheriff Carmine Marceno said. “We were one second away from a Columbine here.”

Under Florida law, authorities are allowed to release certain juvenile records, including a defendant’s name and photograph, if the crime the juvenile is suspected of committing would be a felony if it was alleged to have been committed by an adult.

According to Marceno, a teacher at Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres got information that an 8th grade student might have a gun in a bookbag. School officials took that teenager from class and searched his bag. Though they did not find any weapons, they did discover a map of school that included markings of the interior cameras, Merceno said. The investigation continued, with investigators determining that Pruett and Byrd plotted a mass shooting. The duo allegedly looked close at the 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting as part of their process.

“They were extensively studying to learn more about the incident and the shooters,” Marceno said.

The teenagers were allegedly learning how to make pipe bombs, and also how to buy firearms on the black market, he said. Investigators carried out search warrants.

“Detectives uncovered some disturbing evidence, including a gun and several knives,” the sheriff said.

Merceno told reporters that deputies already knew of the teens because officials responded to their homes for calls almost 80 times combined. He did not explain the nature of these calls.

Both boys were being evaluated at a mental health facility, he said.

“This could have been the next Parkland massacre, but we stopped them in the planning stages,” he said.

[Screenshot via Lee County Sheriff’s Office]

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