LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. – Two teenage students were arrested for conspiracy to commit a mass shooting Thursday afternoon at Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres.
Conner Pruitt, 13, and Phillip Byrd, 14, are each facing a charge after a student told a teacher they suspected one of the teens had a gun in his backpack, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office said in a press conference.
The eighth-grade student was searched and no weapons were found but a map of the school was in the backpack with all the locations of cameras marked, Sheriff Carmine Marceno said.
Detectives were able to identify the two students involved in the plot and discovered the two had an interest in the Columbine massacre. The teens were, reportedly, studying the 1999 attack, were trying to learn how to construct pipe bombs, and how to buy firearms off the black market, Marceno said.
Search warrants were conducted at both the students’ homes and investigators found a gun and several knives.
Investigators said they have responded to the boys’ homes nearly 80 times between the two of them. Both teens will be charged with conspiracy to commit a mass shooting, Marceno said.
Neighbors on Willard Avenue said that deputies swarmed their street around 7:30 a.m.
Deputies were also seen investigating at a home on Oakfield Avenue South Thursday morning.
“This could’ve been the next Parkland massacre,” Sheriff Marceno said.”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”
Students at the school are safe and the school day continued as normal, according to Alex Dworzanski, Principal of HMMS.
“I commend the students who came forward to report the threat and the quick action of the staff,” Dworzanski said. “The safety of our students and staff is at the core of what we do.”