From Middle School to Prison: Two Florida Teens Accused of Conspiracy of a Mass Shooting

September 23, 2021 Juvenile Offenses, News & Announcements

School is fully back in session. After the year and a half stand still of COVID-19, most schools in the United States have gone back to face-to-face school room teachings. Although this is a relief for parents, students, and teachers all the same, there is one worrying aspect that is brought back with on campus schooling. A global pandemic has not had an effect with the ongoing issues of school shootings.

This theory was proven true on the morning of September 10th when two boys—13 and 14 years old—were taken in by police after allegedly planning what was going to be the next Columbine school shooting. In a broadcasted press briefing on Thursday afternoon, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno gave the comment, “This could have been the next Parkland massacre, but we stopped them in the planning stages.”

This most recent accusation sheds light on the continuous issue of gun violence in school settings. Now the question arises: How will the two underage teens get charged for the conspiracy? And what led to the horrific reality of two young boys wanting to take on such a heinous act?

How Did This Happen?

At Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres, just 15 miles east of Fort Meyers, the day began as any other. That was until a teacher was given a tip. A fellow student reported that they believed one of the two eighth graders had a gun in his backpack. Luckily, the teacher responded immediately and contacted the administration to intervene. They were quick to empty out the classroom and investigate the potential threat. The school administration found no indication of a gun or weapon, but they did find a map. The map appeared to show the locations of security cameras on the school’s campus. This was enough evidence for the school administration to get the police involved.

According to Sheriff Marceno, the two middle schoolers were not unknown to authorities. In fact, deputies had visited their homes almost 80 times combined. During the most recent search of the boys’ homes, there was a gun and multiple knives found. In addition, the boys’ Instagram accounts show off weapons including shotguns, rifles, handguns, and a homemade knife. There was a Florida license plate tag on one of the boys’ dressers that appeared to have bullet holes in it. A confederate flag hung from the wall with the phrase, “The South Will Rise Again”.

Sheriff Marceno indicated just how bad the situation appeared to be, addressing that the two boys had reached out to other students in the school. They were asking if anyone else wanted to take part in their alleged plan for the school shooting. Authorities believe there may have even been Zoom calls to discuss the plot. “The plan was coming together,” Marceno said in his statement, “And at any time at the press of a button, God forbid, we could have been here talking about a mass shooting.”

Idolizing Past School Shootings

Another alarming detail of this ongoing case is the interest the eighth graders had in the 1999 Columbine school massacre. In a similar background, the Columbine School Shooting was planned by two troubled students who murdered over a dozen classmates and a teacher before ending their own lives. The teens were accused of trying to learn how to buy black market firearms and how to build pipe bombs.

The fascination with such a horrific crime is not healthy for the two young teens. It also shows the importance of how quickly the middle school reacted to the student tip off. The school superintendent remarked on how effective it was to react as swiftly as they did: “All the threat assessment and emergency response training made a difference in the outcome of the incident.”

What is Conspiracy?

The two middle schoolers have yet to have been charged with a crime. Since they are minors, their names have remained out of the papers. Because they are minors, their identities will not be released until they are charged. As of now, they have both been taken to a juvenile detention center and gone through mental health evaluations. Their current accusation is for conspiracy of a mass shooting.

Fla. Statute 777.04(3) defines conspiracy as a person who agrees, conspires, combines, or confederates with another person to commit any offense. To prosecute the alleged offender during trial, the prosecutor must prove the following:

  1. The defendant intended that a specific crime would be committed; and
  2. There was an agreement between the defendant and at least one other person to commit the alleged crime.

In Florida, a conspiracy conviction can range from a misdemeanor to a first-degree felony. The range of severity would depend on the crime that had been committed or was planned to commit. Even if the crime was not carried out, the conspiracy can still exist and a conspiracy charge can result, leading to jail time.

The punishment for a conspiracy under Florida law is ranked one degree lower than the crime that was intended to be committed. For example, if the defendant allegedly conspired to commit a third-degree felony, the punishment for that conspiracy would be a first-degree misdemeanor. The penalties for conspiracy can range from no jail time to thirty or more years in jail.

What then makes this case difficult is the age of the two accused school shooter conspiracists. How will they get charged—if at all? With the pushing of a new Florida Bill this year, it may make it even more difficult to figure out what consequences the eighth graders should receive. 

To read more about conspiracies and attempt of crimes in the state of Florida, check out our detailed page here.

Florida’s New Bill – Charging Juveniles as Adults

State Bill 474 was trying to get passed by Sen. Randolph Bracy, which would make it so 14 year-olds could no longer be charged as adults for serious crimes at the discretion of state attorneys. The bill would also make the minimum age 17 in order to be charged as an adult for less serious felonies or misdemeanors if the defendant has previous convictions.

Bracy tried to push the bill after reading about a 14-year-old boy who was sent to an adult prison and sexually assaulted repeatedly. There is a concern with the severity of sending children into adult prisons. He claims it is almost impossible to rehabilitate children who have made mistakes and committed a crime when they are sent to an adult prison. Recidivism is almost guaranteed as a result of the trauma of going to an adult prison.

As it currently stands, state attorneys have permission to “direct file” in the court room and bypass juvenile courts for 14- and 15-year-olds who have been charged with the following crimes:

  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Carjacking
  • Carrying or displaying a gun during a crime
  • Aggravated assault
  • Kidnapping
  • Aggravated child abuse
  • Armed burglary

Teens who are 16 and 17 years old can be filed directly if they are charged with a misdemeanor and have two or more prior offenses, one being a felony.

To read the detailed report of the SB 474 click here.

Again, this will leave prosecutors for this case in an interesting position as to how to charge the accused teens. As of now, authorities are unsure as to whether they will prosecute the boys as juveniles or adults. The two boys are currently in juvenile detention and receiving mental health screenings until charges are made.

How Did Their Parents React?

Although the names of the boys have been kept private, it did not stop one of the parents from speaking out to the local news station. In Lehigh Acres, Florida, couple Christopher and Carrie Tuller came to their son’s defense to News Nation Now in an interview.

Upon hearing about the accusation, Carrie Tuller explains she had become hysterical, stating “I just never thought to see my son in handcuffs. It was devastating.” She goes on to defend her son for having a gun, explaining that it was a BB gun, and that, “he wouldn’t use it to hurt anyone.” Carrie goes as far to say that it was all just talk, and that it was a way for her son to seek attention.

“I see the concern,” Carrie finally admits. “That is why I can say I’m grateful nothing did happen, because I get it.” Carrie and her husband Christopher are hopeful to get their son released on bail after his 21-day court-ordered juvenile detention is served.

Rising Gun Violence in US Schools

It is no secret that the United States has an ongoing issue with gun violence in schools. It seems that mass shootings have continuously gotten more frequent since the instance of Columbine. Florida has specifically witnessed tragedies caused by shootings—including the 2016 Pulse massacre and the 2018 Parkland school shooting.

Mass shootings are considered violent incidents where at least four people have been shot or killed, not including the person with the gun. Data from the non-profit Gun Violence Archives highlights the worrisome fact that mass shootings have been increasing in the US since 2017. The year 2020 had an especially drastic increase at 611 mass shootings—almost 200 more than the previous year.

There is an ongoing problem in the US with school shootings and guns. This specific case is one with a brighter ending, one that was stopped before it reached a more tragic ending. It is a grateful day that the school administration was so on top of the potential gun threat. However, it is sad to bear witness to the thought that children cannot go to school without the overwhelming fear that someone will bring a gun onto campus and potentially try to shoot them. The training can help prepare students and teachers, but hopefully there can be a long-term solution that will prevent the worst from even being a consideration in the future.

This article was written by Karissa Key

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