Parents are reacting after deputies arrested two teens who allegedly were planning a school shooting that would rival Columbine and Parkland.
Parents are thankful authorities acted before it was too late for Harns Marsch Middle School in Lehigh Acres.
The two students, 13-year-old Conner Pruett, and Phillip Byrd, 14, are undergoing mental health evaluations but once they are released they will face charges, said Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno.
A Lee County school resource officer was notified by a teacher that a student may have had a gun in his backpack after overhearing students talking. While the officer didn’t find a gun, they did find a map of the school that included the locations of surveillance cameras.
Students interviewed told authorities they had overheard two students talking about a school shooting during lunch.
On Friday, parents were so scared that 312 of the school’s nearly 1,400 students stayed home, a significant increase from the usual absences the school sees.
Gloria Rivera said her daughter was a former classmate of Conner’s.
“I asked her, how was this child around you? Was he trouble? Was he nice? Was he with drama? How was he,” Rivera said. “She said to me he was a nice kid … They laughed, they talked.”
But, Rivera added, “He was very to himself, very friendly with her, but she could tell he was a little off as in he wasn’t as social as she was.”
Marceno said after speaking to witnesses, they questioned the second student about the conversation overheard about school shooting and that’s when authorities found the map.
“The suspects were infatuated with Columbine,” Marceno said. “They read the narrative over ten times to see how it plays out and what they wanted to do and they conspired because they wanted to do the same thing here.”
Marceno said the students used their computers to research how to buy guns and find pipe bombs.
At their homes, authorities found guns and knives.
Noelia Macias said she has two kids at the school.
“My son, he’s in eighth grade,” Macias said. “He’s in one of the classes which one of the students was in.”
Macias said her son sat like a desk away from the suspected student.
“I hugged them and I talked to them and I cried,” Macias said. “I cried a lot.”
Rebecca Wissert doesn’t want her kids out of sight. She kept her son home from Harns Marsh Middle School.
“I just wanted to take a break, and just kind of evaluate the situation and reflect,” Wissert said. “How did they get these guns? You know, how do they have access to making, collecting parts to make the bomb?”
Clinical mental health counselor Alise Bartley said parents should pay close attention to their children’s behavior.
“Some kids, especially kids that have experienced others traumas, they are going to be triggered by this,” Bartley said. “Trauma is cumulative.
“To have the potential that their lives were threatened, it’s something that can have a very powerful impact on all of us, but especially during this pivotal developmental point for these children,” Bartley said.
Parents like Wissert can’t stop thinking about what could have happened.
“We just have to try to protect our babies and it’s a team effort,” Wissert said.
Florida Gulf Coast University offers mental health services for any students that may be in need.