Two teenagers accused of plotting a school shooting in the vein of “another Columbine” appeared in front of a Lee County, Florida, judge on Sunday morning. They were detained Thursday after a school official at Harns Marsh Middle School received a tip that one of the boys was carrying a gun in his backpack. They were taken into custody on Saturday. In a live-streamed press conference, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno identified the students as Connor Pruett, 13, and Phillip Byrd, 14. Although authorities did not find a gun, they said they did uncover a map of the school showing where its security cameras were placed. During the course of the investigation, detectives also said they discovered Pruett and Byrd were “extensively studying” the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and trying to figure out how to purchase firearms on the black market.
The sheriff said that the pair were “well known” to the sheriff’s department and that deputies have responded to calls for disturbances at their homes multiple times. “This could have been the next Parkland massacre, but we stopped them in the planning stages,” Marceno said. “We were one second away from another Columbine.” Byrd’s mother, Carrie Tuller, defended her son to the judge in court. “He’s just a little boy,” she said. “He didn’t think this was really serious.” Both teens are charged with conspiracy to commit a mass shooting. Their next court date is Sept. 27.