CROSSVILLE, Tenn. – A city police officer assigned to a Tennessee elementary school was credited Tuesday with uncovering an apparent plot by at least two sixth graders to carry out a school shooting and their suicides.
The students were taken into custody Monday and ordered held by a judge at the Cumberland County Juvenile Detention Facility on a criminal complaint of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
The prosecutor’s office said they would not be charged in adult court, but he would not say if other students might also be involved.
“We felt it appropriate to charge the students that we know were involved at this point because of the seriousness of the situation to make sure everyone was safe and there was no chance it (school shooting) would take place,” said District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway.
Anthony Loshbaugh, the school’s police resource officer, first learned of the plot Friday from students, who told him about a “hit list” rumor. He notified the new city-county law enforcement threat assessment task force, which promptly investigated the matter.
Investigators said they turned up a hand-drawn map of the South Cumberland Elementary School, a plan to hide guns in a locker room, and then enter the school through a back door to retrieve the weapons to carry out the shooting on or about the last day of school on May 30.
The investigation, authorities said, revealed multiple conversations over the last two weeks about the plot between the two students taken into custody.
Cumberland County Sheriff Casey Cox said the sixth-graders intended to murder students and faculty, then commit suicide before police arrived on the scene. He said investigators searched the homes of the two students and found no weapons.
He praised officer Loshbaugh for developing a trusting relationship with the school’s students that led to them tipping him off about the apparent plot.
School resource officers, he said, “are more than a guy or a gal with a gun on their side. They become a mentor. They become someone students can look up to and someone they can trust.”
He said Loshbaugh “built relationships with the kids in the school that allowed him to break that barrier down and the kids to come forward to speak to him. I can’t reiterate the importance of school resource officers in schools … it is so much more than a security guard at the door.”
This school year was the first time a police officer had been assigned to each of the eight public schools in the county. Previously, they shared four school resource officers.
Janet Graham, director of the county’s schools, said she’s heard from many parents worried about the safety of their youngsters at South Cumberland Elementary School. She said she assured them they were never in danger.
Sheriff Cox confirmed that was the case. He said the police action was “handled swiftly, firmly and effectively,” with student safety foremost in mind.
Cox said one student was taken into custody at the school and the other at home. He said the parents of both were cooperative in the investigation.
The juveniles were not identified by name, gender or name. Sixth graders are typically 12 and 13 years old.
Details for this story were provided by Heather Mullinix, editor of The Crossville, Tennessee, Chronicle.