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Osceola Middle School accounts for most threats in district after boy's arrest

Okeechobee deputies said a 13-year-old student planned to carry out a mass shooting at the middle school
Posted at 6:19 PM, Apr 29, 2024

OKEECHOBEE COUNTY, Fla. — Parents in Okeechobee County say they are on edge after deputies arrested a 13-year-old teen, accusing him of planning a mass shooting at Osceola Middle School.

It's at least the third arrest involving mass shooting threats made against district schools in less than a year, and the second involving a young teen at that middle school in particular.

"It's terrifying to send your kids to school," Candace Fitzwater, a parent of a 13-year-old student, said. "[My son] doesn’t want to come back to school, but if you don't send them to school, what do you do?"

 Candace Fitzwater, a parent of a 13-year-old student in Okeechobee, says: "It's terrifying to send your kids to school." April 29, 2024
Candace Fitzwater, a parent of a 13-year-old student in Okeechobee, says: "It's terrifying to send your kids to school."

Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Jack Nash said in a news release on Saturday that a guidance counselor informed the agency of a "threat assessment" being conducted on a 13-year-old student, whom WPTV is not identifying because of his age. The school worker "was checking on a student."

The middle school in March posted on Facebook about the incident on March 28 without naming the youth.

During that time, Nash said the student shared concerning thoughts including detailed plans to carry out a shooting attack at the school.

According to deputies, the student said he was "hearing the voices of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the Columbine Shooting in 1999" in Colorado, and that the voices in his head compelled him to repeatedly plan a shooting at his school.

The school said no specific targets were mentioned "other than the school in general" and said parents were notified.

Law enforcement was contacted and the student was removed from the campus "after the interviews," according to the school.

"It’s terrifying," Fitzwater said. "You shake, there's nothing you can do. You can’t get into the school to check on your kid."

Nash said the child's family granted law enforcement access to his phones and laptops, which "was a responsible and proactive move that played a crucial role in quickly resolving the investigation."

A forensic diagnostic of electronics, along with his statements, gave deputies probable cause to arrest him.

"It's terrifying," Fitzwater said.

It's the second time in one school year Fitzwater said she was shaken to her core.

In September, deputies arrested another Osceola Middle School student, a 12-year-old, and said he threatened to shoot up his class on Instagram Live.

Soon after that, authorities arrested Henry Horton IV, 19, of Okeechobee after Jupiter police said they found a written plan to shoot and kill 15 people at Okeechobee High School when they pulled him over during a traffic stop.

Data WPTV pulled from the Florida Department of Education show since 2020, threats in the district have gone up.

During the 2020-2021 school year, the district reported 10 threats, six of which were turned over to law enforcement. During 2021-2022, that number increased to 16 and 10. By 2022-2023, the number went up to 18 and 7.

Additional data from the FDOE show during the 2022-2023 school year, almost half of the 18 threats made in the district involved Osceola Middle School.

"As a parent, how do you feel safe sending your kids to school?" Fitzwater asked.

The Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office declined to speak any further on the incident.

The Okeechobee County School District released the following statement on the matter:

"The staff at Osceola Middle School, from the administration to the staff, have open lines of communication with students. They get information regularly about all kinds of things going right or wrong with students. They respond quickly and address concerns immediately. That's the danger of making quick judgments about data. An incident that happened a month ago and was handled, is now brought back up and the unintended consequences of negativity aimed at the school."

- Dylan Tedders, Interim Superintendent, Okeechobee County Schools

WPTV attempted to reach the parents of the student arrested but haven't heard back.

The student is facing a charge of written or electronic threats to kill or mass shooting, a felony, and is at the juvenile detention facility in Fort Pierce.

In Horton's case, court documents show his attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss some of the counts against him in Palm Beach County court. His next hearing is set for June 24.