GREEN BAY, Wis. – Despairing their failures with girls, two high school seniors agreed to put a Columbine-style end to their lives, according to a criminal complaint. William Cornell and Shawn Sturtz, both 17, planned the attack on East High School for two years and amassed a small arsenal of guns and bombs, investigators said. They were joined by recent graduate Bradley Netwal, 18, police said.
Prosecutors charged the three teens Thursday with conspiracy to commit first-degree intentional homicide, punishable by up to 60 years in prison, and conspiracy to commit damage of property by use of explosives, which carries up to 40 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.
Cornell also was charged with possessing explosives and a short-barreled shotgun, a charge that carries up to 18 1/2 years in prison and $35,000 in fines.
Cornell and Sturtz watched the court hearing from jail via a video link-up. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for them for Sept. 29. Netwal was scheduled to appear in court Friday.
The teens' alleged plan came to light last week after Matt Atkinson, a friend of Cornell and Sturtz, told an associate principal about it. The two were arrested at school within hours; Netwal was arrested the next day.
Cornell's attorney, Shane Brabazon, said the attack was hardly imminent and the teens seemed more bent on suicide.
"Sounds a lot like it's hurting themselves," Brabazon said.
But Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski said the plan was to kill kids at East, reminiscent of the Columbine school shootings in Littleton, Colo., in 1999.
"If both of these individuals (Cornell and Sturtz) had had a bad day on the same day, they would have bucked each other up and they would have gone through with their plan," he said. "Fortunately we're not going to have to find out if that would have been the case."
Messages left for Netwal's attorney and Sturtz's public defender were not returned late Thursday.
The criminal complaint paints Cornell and Sturtz as despondent and suicidal over their lack of relationships with girls and bullying at the school. Netwal told police he went along with the plan because he didn't want his friends to think he was a coward.
The complaint details an arsenal of weapons Cornell had stashed in his bedroom, including the sawed-off shotgun, rifles, pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Homemade explosives were also taken from the house. Among the cache was a black leather trench coat and a book titled "Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge."
Two bandoliers of ammunition and several knives were confiscated from Sturtz's house, authorities said.
Cornell made his own explosives using gasoline, which he and Netwal tested in the woods last winter, the complaint said. They planned to use the explosives in the attack, Netwal told police.
Still, each of them took turns backing out and rejoining the plan, the complaint said. But Cornell told police he met with Sturtz the day before they were arrested and Sturtz told him he wanted to go ahead with the attack.
The complaint quoted Atkinson's conversation with Sturtz the day before the arrests:
Sturtz told Atkinson he had a "bunch of rage" because a girl from California he'd been talking to over the Internet had dumped him the night before. Sturtz said he even laid down in the road for a few minutes, hoping someone would run him over.
Sturtz told Atkinson he was going to "shoot the place up."
"Well, what do you mean, like Columbine?" Atkinson asked him.
"Well, yeah, exactly," Sturtz replied.
Cornell told police he was in love with an East student, but she was engaged to someone else, according to the complaint.
The student said Cornell had talked about staging an attack on the school or a library so police would kill him, the complaint said.
"I am so sorry I have to go," said a note to the student that police found in Cornell's room. "Maybe I will find someone in next life. Sometimes I think that I must have done something wrong and God is punishing me ... Don't be sad when I'm gone."