An alleged school shooting plot hatched by two Pennsylvania teens who had access to guns was narrowly averted after an “alarmed parent” contacted the school principal, local authorities said.
The duo, Logan Jack Pringle, 17, and Preston Robert Hinebaugh, 16, were in the “planning phase” of the attack, according to police, and now face charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault. Hinebaugh is also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit criminal trespass and possession of a firearm by a minor.
Pringle and Hinebaugh will be tried as adults, the Cambria County District Attorney’s Office confirmed to The Daily Beast. Their arrests follow a recent school shooting in Michigan that left four students dead and seven injured, including a teacher. Last week, police in Florida arrested a student allegedly preparing an attack at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University just hours before he reportedly planned to pull it off.
Shortly before 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 7, Pringle entered Westmont Hilltop High School through a locked front door, according to a criminal complaint filed by Assistant Chief John Blake of the Upper Yoder Township Police Department.
Pringle has been barred from the campus by court order since 2018, following a series of disturbing episodes, including an alleged threat he made to “get a Glock and shoot up the school” following his expulsion that February. “I just have to figure out how to get into the school,” Pringle told at least eight classmates, the complaint states.
Hinebaugh let Pringle into the school last Tuesday, after which the two “walked the halls examining cameras and other features of the building,” the complaint alleges. Pringle then left the building through an unlocked exit in the school gym roughly 10 minutes later, it says.
That day, the mother of a Westmont Hilltop student got a message from her daughter saying that Pringle was back in school but “assumed he had been re-admitted to the school district.” The parent, who did not want to be identified, said she sent an email with her concerns to the school principal, who called “immediately” to say he would investigate. School officials then contacted police.
“We’re glad they took me seriously,” the unnamed mom told local CBS affiliate WJAC. “I was a little upset that it took this long for them to notice a student who shouldn’t have been there, was roaming the schools.”
On Wednesday, Pringle “was seen on school property once again, dropping off Preston Hinebaugh at school,” the complaint continues.
“Hinebaugh posted to his personal Snapchat account ‘Story’ a picture of Logan Pringle in the school building illegally with the banner ‘He’s Back’ across the photograph,” it says.
The previous week, the school checked the search history of a “school-owned, school-issued device” that Pringle had used “on the school’s wi-fi,” and discovered “numerous searches involving guns, specifically an AR-15 forum,” according to the complaint.
Pringle’s Instagram profile, under the handle “takbir_300,” contains only five posts, nearly all of them related to firearms:
Police interviewed Hinebaugh, who reportedly told them that Pringle is “obsessed” with guns, and is no longer welcome at the Hinebaugh home “because he fired a shotgun into the wall of the residence.” Hinebaugh also told investigators that Pringle “manufactured firearms parts” while attending a local vocational school.
Under police questioning, Pringle told investigators that he “didn't think it would be that easy to get back into the school,” the complaint states.
Pringle has a history of “threats and dangerous actions relative to Westmont Hilltop High School,” it explains. In January 2018, Pringle “lit a match and threw it on the carpeting of the school,” says the complaint.
Also that month, Pringle was “found to be in possession of fireworks inside the school building,” it alleges.
“Imitation weapons have been found in Logan Pringle’s possession by school staff,” the complaint states. “Logan Pringle made a note stating ‘I Hate This School’ with a picture of a knife. Logan Pringle made a checklist for his ‘Rebellion’ including weapons and diagrams of the school with one stairwell/hallway labeled ‘Ideal Location.’”
During a search on Thursday of the house where Hinebaugh lives with his parents, Gina and Phil, cops seized multiple weapons that “his parents were unaware of,” states the complaint. The cache included four untraceable AR-15-style rifles and a pump-action shotgun, according to Upper Yoder Police Chief Don Hess.
“As of 8:30 this morning, both suspects were being transported to another facility and neither had met bail,” Amber Williams of the Cambria County District Attorney’s Office told The Daily Beast on Monday.
Hinebaugh’s attorney, Matthew R. Zatko, told The Daily Beast, “My client denies all of the allegations and looks forward to defending himself and clearing his name.”
Pringle does not yet have an attorney listed in court records, and was unable to be reached. However, a source close to the Pringle family with intimate knowledge of the teenager’s past, said Pringle has long suffered from mental illness and insisted that “the system has already failed him more than once.”
“If he had gotten the proper treatment, we wouldn't be in this situation today,” the person told The Daily Beast, asking for anonymity in order to maintain existing relationships. “It’s sad because the proper help was not there.”
The source said Pringle wanted to join the military, and acknowledged that he “does have an obsession with guns.”
“I know [the police] posted his Instagram,” they said. “He loves guns, he can take a gun apart in two seconds and put it back together… but that doesn’t mean he’s gonna go out and shoot up a school.”
Pringle is not “perfectly innocent, but he needs mental help,” the source continued, arguing that Pringle “should have been put in a mental institution back when all of that started.” Instead, he was placed in a group home, where he was “beat up and battered, and it’s just very sad.”
“Whenever I hear about one of these shootings, the first thing everyone should ask is, ‘What has happened to this child to make them do this?’”
In 2017, Westmont Hilltop High was forced to shut down for a day following a threat made on Twitter by a 12-year-old student. As of Monday afternoon nearly 1,500 people had signed a petition calling for the school to station a police officer on school grounds “to keep students protected every day.”
“I know we have the money to fix our football fields and I think that they could allocate some money into better security and having someone on the school campus at all times,” the parent who reported Pringle’s presence on campus last week to school officials told WJAC. “It could hopefully prevent something like this from going as far as it did.”
Westmont Hilltop High opened as usual on Monday, with “an increased police presence” onsite, which will include Upper Yoder Police Chief Don Hess, according to a letter sent to parents by district superintendent Thomas Mitchell.
“District leadership is in constant communication and evaluating the situation to ensure continued preventative safety measures are in place,” the letter said. “To this end, classes will be in session on Monday, with an increased police presence in both school buildings. Chief Don Hess confirmed that he will be on site at the high school, and an Upper Yoder police officer will be available throughout the week to assist at the secondary school.”
The Upper Yoder Police Department and the Westmont Hilltop School District did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.
Pringle and Hinebaugh are scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 20.