On Wednesday, authorities were sent to Harns Marsh Middle School near Fort Myers after a teacher reported he had received tips that an eighth-grade student had a gun in their book bag.
The student was removed from class and searched by Lee County police, but no weapons were found, as reported by CNN.
They allegedly did find, however, a map of the school marked with the locations of all the school’s interior cameras.
An investigation uncovered the two male teenagers were “involved in a plot to carry out a school shooting,” police said.
Sheriff Carmine Marceno said the teenagers were “extensively studying” the 1999 Columbine high school shooting “to learn more about the incident and the shooters.”
He likened the teen’s alleged plot to the “next Parkland massacre,” referencing the 2018 school shooting in a Florida high school where 17 people were killed by a former student.
The students were allegedly also trying to “learn how to construct pipe bombs and how to purchase firearms on the black market.”
A gun and several knives were found at the students’ homes, among other “disturbing” evidence, according to police.
While they didn’t identify what the disturbing things were, police released images of various weapons and ammunition, as well as a confederate flag, among the evidence they found.
“This could have turned disastrous,” Marceno said, per ABC News. “We were one second away from a Columbine here.”
Interviews with the students “determined that they both met the criteria for evaluation at a mental health facility,” Marceno added.
The teens were already known by police, who had visited their homes nearly 80 times combined. They were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a mass shooting.
Lee County School District Superintendent Ken Savage said his students were never in any danger.
“As soon as students reported the potential threat, the teacher notified administrators, who immediately brought in the school resource officer. Together they emptied the classroom and investigated,” said Savage.
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