Teens who planned Volunteer H.S. massacre plead guilty in juvenile court

Press release from Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson:

ROGERSVILLE — On October 25, 2013, the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office was made aware of a possible plot to conduct an violent attack against Volunteer High School in Church Hill TN.

An investigation was launched and evidence that was discovered revealed that two juveniles were in the process of planning and launching a large scale attack against the school to kill as many students and faculty as possible.

In June 2014, both juveniles were charged with Conspiracy to Commit 1st Degree Murder, Conspiracy to Commit a Terrorist Act and Possession of Explosive Components.

One of the juveniles plead guilty as charged in Hawkins County Juvenile Court on June 2, 2015 and the other plead guilty as charged on February 24, 2016. Details of the plea agreement are sealed, both juveniles will be under jurisdiction of Juvenile Court until age 18.

No more information or details is available in this case.


Original Story 1:

‘Planned attack’

Police say Hawkins County teens had studied Columbine massacre

Police say Hawkins teens had studied Columbine massacre



ROGERSVILLE — By all accounts they weren’t bullied, they weren’t school discipline problems, and they weren’t bad students.

In fact, the boys accused of plotting a massacre at Volunteer High School last year didn’t really stand out in any way, good or bad.

But that was going to change.

According to law enforcement officials, they intended to become the most notorious mass murderers of all time, with the highest body count. They wanted to be famous, and their road to fame would be paved with the bodies of their classmates and teachers at Volunteer High School in Church Hill.

The boys, who are now 16 and 17, studied the 1999 Columbine school shooting, correcting “mistakes” made by those shooters for the purpose of maximizing the number of student and faculty deaths in their planned Volunteer High School massacre, law enforcement officials said.

“This wasn’t just a threat,” Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said Friday. “This was a planned attack.”

Their alleged plot was foiled in October 2013 by an attentive parent who found a notebook outlining the plans; and a mental health professional who recognized that the plot was real and notified police.

On Thursday, both boys appeared in Hawkins County Juvenile Court charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, and possession of explosive components.

As of Friday, both boys remained in state’s custody.

A bond of $75,000 was been set for the boy accused of being the leader. If released he would be required to be on house arrest, under constant adult supervision, and would be banned from all Hawkins County School System property.

A July 31 bond hearing is set in Hawkins County Juvenile Court for the other boy.

The plot was brought to the attention of the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 25, 2013, by a mental health professional with Youth Villages Counseling Services who had met with the boy accused of being the leader.

His father reportedly found a notebook containing writings outlining his massacre plans.

As a result, the father took the boy to receive mental health counseling. The counselor determined that the boy was dangerous and called the HCSO.

On Dec. 12, 2013, HCSO Sgt. Renee Rogers and other deputies executed a search warrant at the boy’s home and discovered several firearms owned by the father, as well as numerous journals, firecrackers, and what appeared to be gunpowder in a plastic bag.

The journals reportedly contained detailed handwritten notes about the boy’s attempts to recruit other students into his massacre plot, as well as floor plans of the school and plans for how the attacks would be carried out.

The alleged plans included killing the school resource officer first, and they went on to outline where the maximum number of students could be killed — in the lunch room and hallways.

The plans also determined students’ most likely routes of retreat and where to place bombs in doorways and exits.

Other students reportedly told investigators they had been invited to join the alleged leader in his plot. When they declined they were threatened, and told to tell no one.

“This young man (the alleged leader) was obsessed with the Columbine school shooting of 1999 in Colorado, and he also took the time to study their plan of attack, and he found the mistakes they made, that he would not,” Lawson said. “This young man was infatuated with serial killers and mass murderers.”

On Dec. 27, 2013, a second juvenile told the HCSO that he and the alleged leader had talked about attacking the school and killing students and faculty.

As the investigation progressed, the HCSO reportedly discovered videos posted online of the two boys holding and firing firearms including an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, and detonating “dry ice” and “Drano” style bombs, as well as “Molotov cocktails.”

Both boys had been removed from the school at the outset of the investigation, and Lawson stressed that from the time the investigation began these boys were no longer a threat.

Lawson noted Friday that it is the responsibility of all students to report all potential threats to school safety.

“If you hear someone making a threat or plan to attack a school, you need to let the authorities know,” Lawson said. “In this case, this could have been an all-out attack.”


Original story 2

From prevention to response, Hawkins leaders prepare for attacks at schools



CHURCH HILL — The fact that last year’s alleged Volunteer High School massacre plot was foiled by a mental health professional hasn’t been lost on leaders in the Hawkins County School System.

This past year the Hawkins County Board of Education implemented a new mental health counseling program funded through the federal Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) Grant.

Director of Schools Steve Starnes said the program partners the school system with Frontier Health, adding a new mental health counselor in each of the high schools and middle schools.

Starnes said he believes on-campus mental heath services offer a number of benefits, not the least of which is hopefully identifying potential threats of violence.

“Our school counselors do a really good job, but the Frontier Health counselor can provide additional services,” Starnes told the Times-News Friday. “We can do screenings and make referrals to that counselor. That counselor then meets with the students, and from there they would make different options available to the parents.”

The S3 grant also funded a new program in Hawkins County high schools called “Move to Stand” in which student leaders are trained to take a stand against bullying.

Starnes said he believes the first line of defense in the prevention of school violence is the students themselves.

“If a student hears of anything like this, please notify someone,” Starnes said. “Notify your parents, notify a school official, notify a member of law enforcement — so we can assess any and all threats and take quick action as we were able to do this time.”

Although prevention is a key element of the overall plan, there has also been lengthy preparation to address the worst-case scenarios.

For years the school system, law enforcement and rescue personnel having been working together to formulate plans to address school attacks and/or mass casualty incidents (MCIs).

Gary Murrell, director of the Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency, said he has plans in place for every school in the county addressing every aspect of an MCI at that specific school.

Those plans are continuously changing and evolving, which Murrell says is a good thing because it prevents agencies from becoming complacent or putting MCI preparedness on the back burner.

“The plans are updated every year, and we’re all involved in it at every level — from the schools to the ambulances, dispatchers, fire departments and law enforcement,” Murrell said. “It’s not foolproof, but if you don’t have a plan you’re not going to be able to do anything. If you’ve got a plan, everybody knows their job.”

Although preparedness for these types of events is always on the minds of school, police and rescue officials, events like the alleged attack plot at Volunteer High School, as well as the recent school shootings in other parts of the country, always serve to heighten awareness.

It wasn’t until the Sandy Hook school massacre in December of 2012 that Hawkins County leaders began talking about putting school resource officers (SROs) in every school in the system.

Murrell said Friday’s announcement about the alleged thwarted Volunteer High School attack plot will undoubtedly serve as another wake-up call.

“People will say things like this can’t happen in our county, but they’re wrong,” Murrell said. “It’s not a matter of if it will happen, but when will it happen. Nobody thinks it can happen to them until it does. I would hope that people understand anything is possible no matter where you live. You’ve got to plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

With five schools in its corporate boundaries, the Church Hill Police Department makes response to school attacks a top priority.

CHPD Chief Mark Johnson said his department has been actively training in schools for years, and last year the department conducted a simulated school shooting exercise at Church Hill Intermediate School.

Most of the schools in Church Hill have a full-time SRO provided by the sheriff’s office.

In the event of an emergency Johnson said his officers will be on the scene quickly, and his officers have been training for school incidents jointly with the sheriff’s office and independently.

“Every school shooting has been different, so you can’t tailor your training to one set of circumstances or one particular tactic,” Johnson said. “We’ve been mainly going over the mental aspects. It’s one thing to be able to shoot inside a building and shoot at moving targets. It’s another thing when you train yourself mentally to step over kids, staff, maybe even small kids who need your help.”

Johnson added, “Our plan is we’re going to go in fast, we’re going to go in hard, and we’re going to get the shooter first. We’re not going to wait, we’re not going to group, we’re not going to plan. We’re going in and try to find the shooter or shooters.”

Murrell has had a countywide MCI drill on the drawing board for more than a year, but he hasn’t had luck finding a date when all the agencies involved can come together.

In light of the thwarted alleged attack plot on Volunteer High School, Murrell said he anticipates that drill will receive higher priority and will take place sometime within the next year.