The two preteens, aged 11 and 12, were enrolled in sixth and seventh grade, respectively, at Bartow Middle School. The Washington Post generally does not identify juveniles charged with crimes unless they are tried as adults.
Hall said that there had been rumors Monday that there would be “issues” at the middle school, and a student had informed a teacher that “something bad” was going to happen. As a result, extra officers were present on Tuesday.
When the 11-year-old failed to show up for her second period class, her mother received a robo-call notifying her that her daughter was absent, Hall said. The girl’s mother contacted the school and said she believed that her daughter was on campus, prompting administrators to launch a search.
An assistant principal found the two girls hiding in a bathroom with a goblet, Hall said. Suspecting that it might have been used to drink alcohol, she escorted them both to the principal’s office.
When the principal, Christopher Roberts, ordered the 11-year-old to empty her pockets, she handed over a paring knife and a sharpener, Hall said. Asked why she had a weapon, the girl said that she and the other student were planning on attacking as many students as possible. Officials then searched the 12-year-old and found several other knives and a pizza cutter in her possession. Hall didn’t specify what the pizza cutter’s intended use was.
After being taken into police custody, the girls told detectives that they had wanted to kill at least 15 people and were in the bathroom waiting for an opportunity. They also said they had planned on targeting smaller students whom they could easily overpower, Hall said.
“I do not believe that this was a joke,” the police chief said. “I believe that these two small children . . . seriously sat down and plotted to do serious bodily harm to another student at school.”
At the 12-year-old’s home, police found a hand-drawn map of the middle school’s campus that said, “Go to kill in bathroom.” Officers searched the students' phones and found that the two had discussed killing themselves after leaving their classmates' body parts by the school’s entrance. “Thank Satan we are doing this in a bit,” the 12-year-old allegedly wrote in a message over social media on Tuesday.
Police say they believe the students' parents, who have not spoken publicly about the allegations, were unaware of their plan. The girls are close friends who live nearby and had spent the weekend together, Hall said.
“I don’t think either one of them was a ringleader,” he added. “I think they were both in it together.”
The two students are in custody and have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, possession of a weapon on school property and disrupting a school campus. Prosecutors have not yet indicated whether they will be charged as juveniles or adults. As of Wednesday evening, neither child had an attorney listed.
“If you were an adult, you’d be looking at potential life in prison,” Hall said. “In this case, I think the state is going to step in and try to make the best decisions for both the public and the two suspects.”
Hall also noted that “there may be some mental health issues here that have to be addressed.”
Polk County Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd said at Wednesday’s news conference that the district will be filing for expulsion of the students, and that she was not aware of the two students having any prior disciplinary problems.
Byrd didn’t explain how the students had been able to bring knives onto campus, but credited the district’s safety procedures with thwarting an attack. “The plan worked,” she said.