A plot by three Winslow Township High School students to massacre people has been thwarted, police said yesterday, and the boys spent last night behind bars.
Township police said they had uncovered a scheme by the boys, ages 14, 15 and 16, to "threaten and assault" the Winslow High community. The teens were arrested Tuesday night and charged with making terroristic threats and conspiracy.
The 14-year-old was also charged with a second count of making terroristic threats and one count of simple assault on allegations he grabbed a female classmate by the neck and telling her he would kill her.
In all, police said, the juveniles specifically targeted about 25 students, teachers and others. Police are not releasing the suspects' names because of their ages.
No weapons were recovered, and no weapons charges have been filed, according to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.
Authorities said the youths, who live in the Sicklerville and Waterford sections of the township, had planned to launch their rampage by entering the lunchroom one day this month and initiating a food fight.
That chaos, the teens planned, would allow them to start throwing chairs, and from there the 15-year-old - described by authorities as the ringleader - would pull out a handgun and fire a shot aimed at getting everyone on the ground.
The 15-year-old would then walk around the lunchroom and execute people, authorities said.
The youths also had plans to shoot others at residences and elsewhere, officials said.
Officials intervened when rumors of a plan began to spread. Police took the three teens, who had gotten into conflicts with some students at school, in for questioning.
Police said one had tried to buy weapons from underground dealers who took the youths' money but never produced guns. Another dealer was arrested on a warrant before he could hand over guns, authorities said.
Officials from the Winslow Police Department, the Prosecutor's Office, and other agencies will notify the juveniles and adults who were alleged targets.
At a short hearing yesterday afternoon, state Superior Court Judge Charles Rand ordered the teenagers held overnight at the juvenile center in Blackwood.
A therapist will determine whether they are a danger to the community or themselves. This morning, they will appear at another hearing, where Family Division Judge Angelo DiCamillo will decide whether they can be released.
Rand noted that "the allegations against each is a very, very serious matter. "
The fathers of the three suspects attended the hearing. Two left without commenting, and a third, swarmed by reporters, made brief comments as he left, saying that his son was "a good kid" and that the whole matter might be a misunderstanding.
As currently charged, none of the three is eligible for waiver to adult court, but the investigation is continuing. Winslow Township Police Chief Anthony Bello said more people could be charged, as well.
Three police cars sat sentry in the student parking lot at the high school yesterday while students streamed outside in the chilly breeze.
Senior Bayyina Black said that everyone at the school was aware of what had happened but that few seemed scared.
"They were saying they were going to shoot up the school," she said, shrugging and shoving books into her car trunk.
Besides heightened police presence - 10 or 15 officers in the hallways, Black said - the threats have mostly meant only a disruption in spring activities.
A pep rally was canceled last Friday; an auction was postponed yesterday. A pre-prom assembly might be canceled next week, she said.
"It's just a setback," Black said. "It's just a waste of our time. "
Some teachers asked how students felt about the alleged plot, but mostly it was class as usual, said Layla Torres, a senior.
"I don't really care, as long as the cops take care of it," she said. "I don't think they were really going to do it, anyway. "