Affidavit: Students plotted to ‘blow this place to pieces’ on Columbine anniversary

The list of items removed after the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office served a search warrant at the home of the juvenile suspect.

One Rappahannock teen under arrest, another under investigation

By Patty Hardee and John McCaslin
Rappahannock News staff

At least two male students of Rappahannock County High School counted down the days until last Thursday — the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting massacre — when according to a court affidavit they reportedly plotted to “make Columbine look like a joke” and “blow this place to pieces.”

It was a fellow student of two primary juvenile suspects — both identified by names and ages (17 and 16) in the affidavit — who sounded the alarm to authorities.

The 17-year-old student is already under arrest and charged with conspiracy to possess a firearm on the property of the high school. The fate of the 16-year-old isn’t known, but he is “not” attending the high school, Rappahannock Sheriff Connie Compton said Sunday afternoon (April 23).

The sheriff hinted that “further charges” could be forthcoming in the ongoing investigation, which has now entered its second week.

“[Suspect 1] was quoted during that time frame as making statements such as, ‘I can’t wait to make Columbine look like a joke’ and in another conversation, ‘I’m going to blow this place to pieces.’”

Rappahannock is a public high school of some 400 students (grades 8 through 12) located on Lee Highway (US 211) between the otherwise quiet towns of Sperryville and Washington, the county seat often referred to as “Little Washington.” Despite being 80 miles from the nation’s capital, the county, which borders Shenandoah National Park, has only about 7,500 full and part-time residents.

“Over the course of several conversations,” according to the affidavit for a search warrant served by Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Major J.D. Arstino Jr., “beginning in approximately December 2016 and possibly as early as November 2016, [Suspect No. 1’s] continued statements about Columbine began leading to his revealing an intent to commit an act of violence at Rappahannock County High School.”

Furthermore, the document states, Suspect 1 “would discuss the actions of the two (2) mass murderers from the Columbine incident in detail referring to them by name — Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.”

Then this chilling revelation: “On April 5, 2017, while at Rappahannock County High School, [Suspect 1] was overheard speaking with at least one other student where he gave a ‘countdown’ stating ‘fifteen more days,’ indicating the number of days left until the date of April 20, 2017” — the 18th anniversary of the Columbine massacre in Colorado.

John McCaslin
A sign in front of Rappahannock County High School lists items prohibited on the property.

During the same exchange, Suspect 1, who is the 17-year-old, was seen showing a photograph on a cellular device to one if not more students: “The photograph depicted [Suspects 1 and 2] dressed all in black clothing, black hats and wearing sunglasses and [Suspect 2] commented while showing the photograph, ‘I can’t wait for four twenty.”

“[Suspect 1] was quoted during that time frame as making statements such as, ‘I can’t wait to make Columbine look like a joke’ and in another conversation, ‘I’m going to blow this place to pieces.’”

Suspect 1 reportedly “disclosed having ‘ordered’ an amount of explosives to be used during the school incident as well. [Suspect 1] showed a photograph on a cellular device to at least one other person and stating, ‘This is what I’ve got, are you ready for this?’”

As for additional weapons, the affidavit states that Suspect 1 “referred to pulling a pistol out of a backpack. [Suspect 1] is described as very guarded with his backpack in school and will not allow anyone to touch it and makes statements implying it contains something of value. [Suspect 1] has also made the statement, ‘I’ll save that for another day’ when referring to what the backpack contains.

“When referencing firearms, [Suspect 1] has specifically referenced bringing a ‘Tech 9’ [assault pistol] and ‘M-4’ [assault rifle] to school and has discussed using a twelve (12) gauge shotgun to discharge ‘birdshot’ ammunition down a hallway of the school,” the document states.

Suspect 1, it continues, “has also made statements of ‘blowing his brains out’ with a 12 gauge shotgun.”

“In conversations during this time frame, [Suspect 2] has discussed his role as a coconspirator with [Suspect 1]. [Suspect 2] would make references of black bags containing ammunition, and backpacks containing pistols and rifles. [Suspect 2] further stated in conversation ‘I can’t forget the black bag under the lunch table.’

“When discussing their movements inside of the school while possessing the firearms, [Suspect 1] has stated ‘I will be the head guy and you just come up behind me’ and [Suspect 2’s] response was ‘Oh, sounds like a plan boss.’”

During their search of Suspect 1’s residence, which is within walking distance of the Rappahannock County Courthouse just outside Washington town limits, authorities seized as evidence a handwritten document, hockey mask, two Hewlett-Packard computers (one from the suspect’s bedroom, the other from the main living area), and an Xbox.

Sheriff Compton would not comment as to whether a subsequent search has taken place of Suspect 2’s residence. Indeed, it could not be determined where Suspect 2 is at this point.

Meanwhile, classes resumed at the high school last Tuesday following spring break, although interim superintendent Dr. Gary Blair acknowledged to this newspaper that he thought long and hard about keeping the school closed.

As late as Easter Sunday night, he said, “I wasn’t about to open the school.”

But last Monday Sheriff Compton convinced the superintendent that the threat to the high school was removed, while assuring him that enhanced security measures were in place to keep students safe.

Nevertheless, Blair admitted, “I didn’t sleep Monday night.”

Just before 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, Virginia State Police K-9 units wrapped up a sweep of the entire school. Blair was also on hand to greet returning teachers, who arrived early for a hastily called faculty meeting during which they were first told of the threats against the school.

At the same time, the teachers were told to keep their classroom doors locked at all times; require students leaving class for any reason to “sign out” by name, including the time and destination; and to even keep an eye out for backpacks left unattended on the floor.

Said one school official: teachers must be “extremely vigilant for the rest of the year.”

By Tuesday afternoon, with classes underway, Blair robocalled the parents of every student, alerting them to what had occurred and assuring them of their child’s safety.

In addition, a letter was sent home with each student explaining that a “threat” was made at the high school and that the “school has revised and increased its security checks and procedures.”

“As a precaution, we have also completed security checks at our elementary school,” the letter said.

 

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