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Two Harns Marsh middle schoolers accused of plotting school shooting

Teacher was notified by another student; school officials say kids ‘were safe at all times’

By Staff | Sep 10, 2021

A tip by students to a teacher was quickly relayed to administration and the school resource officer at Harns Marsh Middle School, resulting in two students being arrested for allegedly plotting a school shooting.

The students are 13 and 14.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said each will be charged with conspiracy to commit a mass shooting.

Marceno said one of his top priorities has always been safe kids, safe schools, which means zero tolerance.

“Yesterday a teacher from Harns Marsh Middle School received concerning information regarding an eighth grade student,” he said during a press conference. “The information alleged that the eighth grade student was possibly in possession of a gun concealed in his bookbag. The teacher promptly alerted the school resource deputy and the school administrators.”

The student was removed from class and an administrative search was conducted. Marceno said no weapons were located in the bag; however a map of the school was found.

“The map contained markings indicating the location of each of the school’s interior cameras. We take every tip and every threat seriously, so we did not stop there,” he said. “Detectives with our Youth Services Criminal Investigation Division assumed the investigation. During the investigation the detectives identified two students involved in a plot to carry out a school shooting.”

Marceno said the detectives learned that the students took interest in the Columbine High School shooting.

“They were extensively studying 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,” he said.

Search warrants were executed for both of the student’s homes. Marceno said evidence collected included a gun and several knives, which he called concerning.

Both youths are “known to deputies,” he added saying deputies have responded to their homes for calls almost 80 times combined.

After interviewing the youths, detectives determined that they both met the criteria for an evaluation at a mental health facility.

“I have been crystal clear, our kids will be safe. We will investigate every tip and every threat. And we will respond with zero tolerance,” Marceno said. “Those responsible for threats, real or fake, will be held accountable. In this case, 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.”

He said a fake, or real threat, you go to jail.

The two students will be evaluated and assisted with any mental health issues, he added.

Marceno credited the teacher who shared the information and acted quickly in notifying the SRO and school administration. He said their relationship with the school district and Superintendent Dr. Ken Savage is excellent with the common goal of protecting the kids.

Savage thanked Marceno for the agency’s quick response and actions to protect students and staff. He said the response demonstrates the strong partnership with the school district and Sheriff’s Office and the importance of having law enforcement in the schools working side by side with administrators.

“As soon as the students reported the potential threat, the teacher reported it to administrators who immediately brought in the school resource officer. 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 staff and the SROs to prevent harm to our campus,” Savage said. “You are all heroes. All the threat assessment and emergency response training made a difference in the outcome of this incidence. The safety of our students and staff is at the core of what do.”