Police on Wednesday said they had prevented an attack on a Tampa high school after arresting an expelled student and discovering materials at his home to make pipe bombs.
"We were probably able to thwart a potentially catastrophic event the likes of which the city of Tampa has not seen," Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor told a news conference.
Police named the suspect, who was detained and charged on Tuesday, as 17-year-old Jared Cano and said his target was Freedom High School.
Castor said Cano, who was expelled from the school in 2010, had hoped "to cause more casualties than were suffered at Columbine" — a reference to the 1999 massacre at a Colorado high school by two students who killed 12 peers and a teacher.
Cano is believed to have acted alone, Castor added.
Authorities said Cano has multiple juvenile arrests. Charges have included burglary, carrying a concealed weapon, altering serial numbers on a firearm and drug possession. All have been either dismissed or no action has been taken.
Fuses, timers found
Acting on a tip from an informant Tuesday morning, police learned that Cano had been planning his attack to take place on the first day of class next Tuesday, Castor said. Two faculty members were specifically targeted, she added.
Cano's mother, a math teacher at another Tampa high school, consented to a police search of the family home on Tuesday.
Evidence found in the search included a "manifesto" with drawings of school rooms and statements apparently indicating his intention to carry out a deadly attack, authorities said.
Police also found timing and fusing devices, and other material that could have been used to make a bomb such as fuel sources, shrapnel and plastic tubing, Castor said.
"He was charged yesterday with threatening to throw, project, place or discharge a destructive device, possession of bomb-making materials and also cultivation of marijuana in his room, his house," she added.
The St. Petersburg Times reported that prosecutors, in a hearing Wednesday, said Cano had admitted he had planned to bomb the school.
Police bomb squad experts determined the quantity of materials found at the home was "capable of taking multiple lives," the Times reported.
'Dumbest thing ever!' on Facebook
Cano wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday morning that "i jut [sic] did the dumbest thing ever!" He did not elaborate.
"You can say that again," replied one friend on Wednesday morning. Another posted: "i can't believe you. i had to find all this out cause of the news? wow ... like i'm literally speechless."
Among favorite quotations listed by Cano on Facebook is: "Lessons not learned in blood are soon forgotten."
At the court hearing, Cano was interrupted by his lawyer, a public defender, when he started to speak.
"I don't know what to say," the teen said initially, with his lawyer adding, "He doesn't want to say anything right now."
The Times said the judge then asked if Cano wanted to say something unrelated to the charges.
"The plan wasn't...," the teenager said, but he was cut off by the lawyer who told him: "Don't say anything."
The paper said Cano was due to go back to court on Sept. 5 for an arraignment.
Cano's parents, who court records say were divorced in 1998, did not attend the court hearing.
Freedom Principal Chris Farkas told reporters Wednesday that Cano was expelled in March 2010 for an incident tied to a police report in which Cano was accused of stealing a gun from a friend's grandfather. Police said Cano admitted the theft but complications in the case meant he was never sanctioned, the Times reported.
He was not registered to attend classes at any local public school this upcoming school year.
Farkas said threats are common in large schools, but most aren't real. After hearing that police confiscated fuel, shrapnel and other materials from Jared Cano's home, the principal said "fear set in."
Farkas said Cano's plan may have been thwarted because the 17-year-old had been expelled from the school and would have been "red flagged" as soon as he stepped on campus.