LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. — The parents of a 14-year-old Florida boy accused of planning a mass shooting at his middle school are defending their son, saying that the teen would never hurt anyone.
Christopher and Carrie Tuller’s son was arrested Thursday, alongside a 13-year-old friend, after a tip from a student led authorities to uncover a Columbine-like plot to shoot up Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres.
“I went hysterical,” Carrie Tuller told NewsNationNow.com. “I just never thought to see my son in handcuffs. It was just devastating.”
Both boys are charged with conspiracy to commit a mass shooting, according to Lee County officials. They are being held in a juvenile detention facility.
It is unclear if authorities plan to prosecute the boys as juveniles or adults. While Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno identified the teens by name at a news conference last week, court documents in the case appear to be confidential.
The boys’ names are being withheld here because of their ages.
Tuller and her husband disputed Marceno’s description of the boys’ actions.
The sheriff said deputies were called Wednesday to Harns Marsh Middle after unnamed students warned a teacher that one of the boys might have a gun in his backpack. The teacher acted immediately, said Ken Savage, superintendent of the Lee County school district.
“As soon as students reported the potential threat, the teacher notified administrators, who immediately brought in the school resource officer,” Savage said. “Together, they emptied the classroom and investigated.”
When deputies searched the eighth-grader’s bag, they found no weapons.
What they did find was a map of the school.
“The map contained markings indicating the location of each of the school’s interior cameras,” Marceno said.
Watch Thursday’s news conference below.
A search of Tuller’s home turned up a gun and multiple knives, authorities said. Christopher Tuller insisted his son is not dangerous.
“The rifle they took out of here, it wasn’t a rifle. It was a BB gun,” Christopher Tuller told NewsNationNow.com.
The boy’s Instagram page shows images of what appears to be multiple weapons, including a shotgun, handguns, rifles and knives, including what looks like a homemade knife. Several of the same images were shared Thursday by authorities.
On his dresser, Tuller’s son had an expired Florida car tag bearing the words “Support Education.” The metal appeared to be pocked with holes the size of BBs.
A Confederate flag with the slogan “The South Will Rise Again” was on the teen’s wall.
Watch the Tullers’ interview below.
“He wouldn’t use them to hurt anyone,” Carrie Tuller said of the items found in her home. “They made it sound really bad.”
The situation was bad, Marceno indicated. According to the sheriff, the boys had reached out to other students, asking if they wanted to be part of the alleged plot.
Authorities believe the teens may have met over Zoom to discuss the proposed mass shooting, NewsNationNow.com reported.
“This plan was coming together,” Marceno said. “And at any time at the press of a button, God forbid, we could be sitting here talking about a mass shooting.”
Marceno likened the alleged plot to the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a total of 14 students and three staff members were allegedly slain by a former student.
“This could have been the next Parkland massacre, but we stopped them in the planning stages,” Marceno said Thursday.
Marceno said the investigation also showed that the boys had a vivid interest in the April 20, 1999, massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. In one of the U.S.’s most notorious school shootings, Columbine students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 12 students and a teacher before turning their weapons on themselves.
Harris and Klebold had also planted multiple bombs at the school, but the homemade devices did not detonate as planned.
The Harns Marsh Middle students were “extensively studying” the 1999 shooting, as well as the backgrounds of both Harris and Klebold, Marceno said Thursday. Like Harris and Klebold, they were also learning how to make pipe bombs and researching how to obtain black market firearms.
“This could have turned disastrous. We were one second away from a Columbine here,” the sheriff said.
Carrie Tuller told NewsNationNow.com that she believes it was “just talk” and that her son was seeking attention. She said, however, that a shooting would have been devastating.
“I see the concern,” she said. “That is why I can say I’m grateful nothing did happen, because I get it.”
The couple said they hope to get their son out on bond after his court-ordered 21-day juvenile detention hold is over.
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