Two SWFL teens accused of plotting Columbine-style school shooting

Reporter: Justin Kase, Gail Levy Writer: Derrick Shaw
Published: Updated:

Deputies have detained two students that face charges of conspiracy to commit a mass shooting after a teacher’s tip to a school resources officer.

According to Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno, an eighth-grade teacher at Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres overheard students talking about a student who possibly had a gun in his bag.

School administration and a deputy searched the student and bag and found no gun; however, they did find a map of the school with the locations of all the school’s interior cameras.

Deputies identified two students they say were involved in a plot to carry out a school shooting, Conner Pruett, 13, and Phillip Byrd, 14.

It was not specified which teen had the map in their book bag at school.

Marceno said the teens were extensively studying the Columbine High School shooting incident and shooters, how to construct pipe bombs and how to purchase firearms on the black market.

After searching their homes, deputies found guns and several knives.

Marceno said both teens are well known to law enforcement and have been to their homes more than 80 times.

Parent Jennifer Gagnon, whose daughter attends Harns Marsh, is thankful students spoke up.

“I am so happy that you guys came forward. I am grateful that you guys are mature enough to understand that it is not OK,” Gagnon said.

Gagnon is happy her daughter is home safe but nervous about what the next school day might bring.

“I’m just nervous for my kid,” Gagnon said.

Parents wonder how such young kids got their hands on weapons.

“It’s kind of mind-boggling that these children are even thinking about this stuff,” Gagnon said.

But above all, they feel thankful their children are OK and want to thank those who came forward.

“You got attention to the adults, and you got it all handled,” Gagnon said. “You guys are amazing, and you guys are little superheroes.”

Detectives determined both Pruitt and Byrd met the criteria for evaluation at a mental health facility.

Both face charges of conspiracy to commit a mass shooting.

“This could have been the next Parkland Massacre but we stopped them in the planning stages,” Marceno said. “I’m also proud of the teacher who initially received the information and acted quickly in notifying the SRO and school administration.”

It’s a reminder from the sheriff’s office and school district that if you see something, say something.

Marceno said, “I can’t say thank you enough” to the student and teacher for reporting what they knew so the threat could be assessed.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office held a news conference regarding the incident.

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