RIVERTON, Kan. – Some people say they were loners. Others say they were bullies. And one student says the five teenagers suspected of plotting a shooting spree at their high school had told classmates the posting on the popular Web hangout Myspace.com that eventually tipped off authorities was just a prank.
But law enforcement and school officials say the boys, who range in age from 16 to 18, fully intended to carry out the plot.
Riverton schools Superintendent David Walters said school officials investigated rumors of an attack for two days before turning the information over to law enforcement officials, who arrested the students early Thursday.
The teens planned to wear black trench coats and disable the school's camera system before starting the attack between noon and 1 p.m. Thursday, Cherokee County Sheriff Steve Norman said. Sheriff's deputies found guns, ammunition, knives and coded messages in the bedroom of one suspect and documents about firearms and references to Armageddon in two suspects' school lockers.
Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, whose office took over the prosecution at the request of the county attorney, said his office was not prepared to file charges.
"To go forward and compare this to anything else is premature," Kline said during a news conference in Topeka on Friday. "The evidence is still being obtained."
Kline said he will determine early next week whether to file criminal charges, and if so, what those charges would be and whether to try to have the four juveniles tried as adults.
Kline said he expected a judge to decide Friday night whether the boys could be detained for 72 hours on an affidavit that there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed.
Freshman Nathan Spriggs, 15, said rumors of the planned attack had run rampant the day before the arrests — prompting some students to tell the suspects: "Whatever you do, don't shoot me.
"They were actually worried," he said, adding that before they were arrested, the boys were telling their classmates they had posted the threat as a joke and were worried they would be suspended or expelled for doing it.
Some students doubted the boys intended to carry out the threat and said they were not alarmed that guns were found because in rural parts of Kansas it is not uncommon for youths to have access to guns for hunting.
"My parents didn't want me to go to school," Spriggs said Friday on the sidewalk outside the school. "I am class president for the freshman class. My job is to keep the peace here."
School officials were taking no chances.
"The sheriff's office believes it is the real thing. I have no reason to mistrust their judgment," Walters said.
Leah Virgil, a single mother of two high school students who knew the suspects, said she didn't learn about the threat until law enforcement became involved.
"Maybe the reason they said something over the Internet is a cry for someone to stop it before it happened — which is what happened," Virgil said as she was leaving the school.
She said there is too much pressure on children to have the right kind of clothes or cell phones.
"They were kind of loners, misfits who didn't fit in and had a lot of anger," Virgil said.
But Ronni Paxson, 17, a senior, said the boys were not bullied and had friends at the school.
"Everybody has their own group," Paxson said in the parking lot as he left school. "The school is small. Everybody knows everybody."
Brandon Hay, 18, a senior, said his brother is a close friend of the suspects.
"They had friends. They weren't bullied a whole lot. They bullied a few kids," Hay said.
The five boys had talked about "doing stupid things" because they were bored. He said one of the suspects has a history of fights at the school. He said the student had made numerous comments such as "I wish so and so died" or "I am going to shoot someone."
"We knew it was joking around," Hay said in the parking lot.
The four younger than 18 were being held at a juvenile detention center in Girard. The 18-year-old was in the Cherokee County Jail.
Officials assured the community that the 270 or so students at Riverton High School were safe.
MySpace.com — a social networking hub with more 72 million members — released a statement declining to discuss the case because of the investigation, adding that it has provided users with mechanisms to report inappropriate content.
Riverton is a small community of about 600 people along what once was the famed Route 66 in southeast Kansas, near the Oklahoma and Missouri borders.