Teens Arrested for Conspiracy to Do School Shooting, Allegedly Studied Columbine

Two Florida middle school students have been arrested after allegedly plotting to carry out a mass shooting modeled on the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said on Thursday that 14-year-old Phillip Bird and 13-year-old Connor Pruitt, students at Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres, had been arrested after deputies investigated information from an eighth-grade teacher about the alleged plot on the previous day. Marceno said the teens, both "well known to deputies" who had responded to calls to their homes almost 80 times, would be charged with conspiracy to commit a mass shooting.

Florida Middle School Shooting Plot Arrests Columbine
Two middle school students were arrested in Florida this week after allegedly plotting to carry out a mass shooting modeled on the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. This undated file photo shows a handgun inside s student's backpack. Evgen_Prozhyrko/Getty

The alleged plot was uncovered after the teacher received a tip from students who claimed that one of their classmates had a gun in their book bag. Deputies quickly launched an investigation and identified Bird and Pruitt as suspects. Although a gun was not found in the book bag, police did discover a map of the school and found "disturbing evidence including a gun and several knives" during a subsequent search of the suspects' homes, Marceno said.

"Detectives learned the students took an interest in the Columbine High School shooting," said Marceno during a news conference. "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 shooting, which resulted in 15 deaths and dozens more injuries, has inspired multiple copycat shootings in the decades since it took place. It was the deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. high school until 2018 when 17 people were killed in the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which is located about 120 miles away from Lehigh Acres. Marceno said that police intervention likely prevented another deadly incident.

"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," Marceno said. "This could have been the next Parkland massacre, but we stopped them in the planning stages."

In response to a request for comment, the Lee County School District pointed Newsweek to remarks that Superintendent Dr. Ken Savage made during the same news conference. Savage thanked Marceno and his team for their "quick response and actions to protect our students and staff," along with the students who initially reported their classmates and the school staff who alerted police.

"As soon as students reported the potential threat, the teacher notified administrators, who immediately brought in the school resource officer [SRO]," Savage said. "Together they emptied the classroom and investigated. Students were safe at all times."

"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," he added. "You are all heroes. All the threat assessment and emergency response training made a difference in the outcome of this incident."