Archive for Friday, April 21, 2006

Five students arrested in foiled school shooting

April 21, 2006

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— Five teenage boys accused of plotting to kill other students in a shooting rampage at their southeast Kansas high school were arrested Thursday after details of the alleged scheme appeared on the Web site MySpace.com.

Cherokee County sheriff's deputies found guns, ammunition, knives and coded messages in the bedroom of one of the suspects, Sheriff Steve Norman said. In two of the suspects' school lockers, authorities found documents about firearms and references to Armageddon, he said.

Four suspects were arrested at their homes, two as early as 12:30 a.m. The fifth suspect was arrested at the school Thursday afternoon.

Norman said he would seek charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder against the young men, who range in age from 16 to 18.

In court today

Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, whose office took over prosecution of the case at the request of the Cherokee County attorney, said charges against the five likely would be announced today, when the suspects are expected to appear in court. He said no decision had been made on whether to charge the four suspects younger than 18 as adults or juveniles.

In a news conference Thursday evening, Kline refused to discuss any details about the plot, how officers found out about it, or if other homes had been searched.

Deputies' interviews with the suspects indicated they planned to wear black trench coats and disable the school's camera system before starting the attack between noon and 1 p.m. Thursday, Norman said. The suspects apparently had been plotting since the beginning of the school year, he said.

"What the resounding theme is: They were actually going to do this," Norman said.

Threatening message

He said officials at Riverton High School, which has about 270 students, began investigating Tuesday after learning that a threatening message had been posted on MySpace.com.

The message discussed the significance of April 20, which is Adolf Hitler's birthday and the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School attack in Colorado, in which two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher, wounded 24 others, then committed suicide.

"The message, it was brief, but it stated that there was going to be a shooting at the Riverton school and that people should wear bulletproof vests and flak jackets," Norman said in a telephone interview.

School officials identified the student who posted the message and talked to several of his friends, Norman said.

But Riverton school district Supt. David Walters said the significance of the threat didn't become clear until Wednesday night, after a woman in North Carolina who had chatted with one of the suspects on Myspace.com contacted authorities in her state, who contacted the Cherokee County sheriff's department. The woman had received more specific information that there would be about a dozen potential victims, at least one of whom was a staff member.

MySpace responds

MySpace released a statement Thursday declining to discuss the message because of the ongoing investigation.

The popular networking hub of more than 72 million people "has provided our users with a variety of mechanisms to report inappropriate content and activities allowing the company to rapidly respond to safety issues," the statement said, adding that users are encouraged to report activity they feel "jeopardizes the safety of the community."

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