A potential tragedy at a central Florida charter school was averted when students sounded the alarm that two of their classmates were planning to “shoot up the school on Friday.”
The whistleblowers alerted authorities that the accused teenagers had warned certain students at the Villages Charter Middle School to wear white shirts and say the safety word “Eugene” to avoid getting shot, according to a police report released by the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office.
A 13-year-old suspect “was intercepted by authorities as he attempted to arrive” at the school on Wednesday, the sheriff’s office revealed in a press release.
“At the time, he acknowledged conversations involving the plot and referenced the mass shootings at Columbine High School,” the sheriff's office said.
The teenage suspect also implicated a 14-year-old boy who was “quickly” located at the school, which is located in the town of The Villages, about 60 miles west of Orlando.
“The student informed officials that the two students had planned an attack which included what they would use as a signal to open fire,” according to the sheriff's office. “No weapons were found on either of the students or in their bags or lockers.”
But firearms were found in the Fruitland Park home of the 13-year-old and in the Wildwood home of his alleged accomplice — one of them an AR-15 assault rifle, according to the police report.
Both students are now charged with conspiracy to commit murder and local law enforcement is breathing a big sigh of relief.
“The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office is grateful for those students brave enough to speak out about the plot,” the sheriff's office said. “Their heroic actions may have prevented a deadly tragedy and loss of precious lives.”
The sheriff's office did not identify the students who went to authorities and the school referred all calls back to law enforcement.
Under questioning, the suspects gave a tearful confession during which the younger teen said he had been depressed, according to the police report.
“I just want to die,” he told investigators and insisted he had been joking about staging the shooting.
But under questioning, the teenage suspects also admitted they were supposed to meet at the gym and start shooting.
The signal to open fire? A dropped pencil.
The April 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado by two disgruntled students has been the inspiration for other massacres.
Among them the murders of 20 first-graders and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut by another troubled young man armed with an AR-15 assault rifle.