SOUTH PASADENA – Howard Spector’s son is entering his junior year at the city’s only high school. He thought South Pasadena – the small town his family calls home – was the least likely place his son would be in danger of a mass school shooting, but he was proved wrong.
He and other parents from the small city northeast of downtown Los Angeles were shocked and scared when officials announced Monday that two teenagers had been arrested earlier in the day on suspicion of plotting to kill three staff members and as many students as possible at the high school.
“It’s freaky,” Spector said Tuesday. “I’m just glad they caught them before anything happened.”
The teens – identified only as boys ages 16 and 17 – remained in custody Tuesday and were expected to be charged with conspiracy and criminal threats.
South Pasadena Unified Schools District Superintendent Geoff Yantz sent an email to parents and SPUSD employees about 7:30 p.m. Monday – nearly an hour after news of the arrests was reported by media outlets – saying the administration had received a “credible threat of potential violence” at the high school.
Police received the tip Thursday that led to four days of computer surveillance. In online searches, officers found plans to purchase handguns, automatic weapons, knives, bulletproof vests and instructions on how to build explosives.
Police searched the homes of both boys Monday and did not find weapons, although officials are not ruling out that weapons may have been obtained and placed elsewhere. One boy was arrested without incident, and the other tried to lock himself inside the house. He was taken into custody after trying to run away when police entered the home.
Tammie Bowser, another South Pasadena parent, said she was terrified when she heard about the potential violence.
“It is good to know that officials take threats seriously,” she said. “I don’t understand why any student would think of doing that type of thing in such a nice area.”
Investigators found numerous online conversations between the boys discussing the plan to kill staff and students at their high school, where they were expected to be seniors this year.
“It is an intense and strange feeling knowing that those students were walking the same hallways as us,” sophomore Angela Joyner said Tuesday while walking on campus at South Pasadena High.
The teens, who do not have criminal records, were taken into custody Monday and “later on, during (police) investigative interviews, they more or less confirmed what they talked about coldheartedly,” South Pasadena Police Chief Arthur Miller said.
Miller did not discuss a motive behind the mass shooting plot but said, “Any motive would not rise to the level of the response they had.”
The boys did not discuss online a specific date of when the school shooting would have taken place, officials said.
“As they were planning it, they didn’t have a target date, but they had a very specific plan,” Miller said, adding that the teens – the only two suspected to be involved in the plot at this time – also were learning tactical maneuvers and how to operate the weapons.
One boy discussed online the possibility of taking a gun from a relative, officials said. Police contacted that family member and were told the gun was in a “safe place,” Miller said.
As the final days of summer vacation close for South Pasadena students, the midsize high school’s halls were quiet Tuesday amid the news of the shooting plot. Many students, such as senior Hanna Crowley, were relieved by the quick reaction of their school’s administration.
“I’m thankful that school officials were able to recognize suspicious behavior,” said Crowley, who would have been in the same graduating class as the arrested teens.
Jayda Weeks, a sophomore, said she was “frozen” when she heard the news, adding that she and her friends didn’t know how to react.