Victoria McCurley
Photo: Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office
Photo: Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office

Cherokee County teens indicted for planning high school attack

Two 17-year-old students were indicted Tuesday on charges that they planned to ignite an incendiary device at their Cherokee County high school in an attempt to kill students and teachers there.

Alfred Dupree (Credit: Cherokee County Sheriff's Office)

Victoria McCurley and Alfred Dupree were charged with six counts each of conspiracy to commit murder and other charges related to building an incendiary device in October, officials said. Among the charges were that they possessed a destructive device.

The teens are accused of drawing maps of Etowah High School and writing a list of six names they wanted to target “by means of fire and explosives,” according to the indictment.They are both charged with possession of a destructive device, too.

But McCurley’s friends and family, who refer to her as “Gabi,” told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she would never go so far as to hurt people at her high school.

Instead, she is the victim, they say, of bullying and neglect. Her dark social media posts were cries for help and her plans to hurt others were a mask for her desire to hurt herself, Mandy Thomas, a family member of McCurley’s on her father’s side said.

MORE: 2 teens charged with attempted murder after threats to school, staff

An post made by a social media account believed to belong to Victoria McCurley.
Photo: Instagram

“Gabi is lost in a whirlwind of confusion and sadness,” Thomas said. “She was on Facebook begging people to listen to her.”

Thomas and her niece, Haley Carver, agree that McCurley suffered from mental health issues exacerbated by the deaths of loved ones and caregivers. 

Carver said she grew up with McCurley and knew her better than anyone. 

“She is just a lost kid,” Carver said. “I don’t even think she would have went through with it in all honesty.”

An only child, McCurley was raised by her grandmother and father after her mother died suddenly of an aneurysm, Thomas said. Her grandmother died about five years ago and her father, Wade McCurley, was sentenced to prison in 2015. He is currently incarcerated at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon, according to prison records. The 37-year-old’s earliest release date is October 2020.

“Gabi needs help, maybe antidepressants or a counselor,” Thomas told The AJC. “She needs a lot.”

Issues with addiction plagued Wade McCurley, Thomas said, who was convicted of using a child in a display of sexually explicit conduct. 

“In hindsight, I wished I would have tried a little harder for her,” Thomas said. “I wished I could’ve done more.”

“If you’re going to be ‘zero tolerance’ about weapons and stuff they should do it in school with bullies,” Thomas said.

Ultimately, McCurley was stuck with her stepfather and he was all she had. 

“She (McCurley) really is a good person,” Carver said. “She has just had to go through a lot just like we all have and she had a different way of coping with it.”

Rumors circling around the time of McCurley’s arrest said she and co-defendant Alfred Dupree planned to attack during Homecoming Week.

Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds previously said the attack if carried out would have been on the scale of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, when two teenagers went on a shooting spree in Littleton, Colorado. They killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 others before turning the guns on themselves. While authorities never determined with certainty the teens’ motives, they said the bullying may have been a factor.

MORE: Cherokee sheriff: School threat would have been a ‘Columbine-type incident’

Thomas said bullying is pervasive in Cherokee County schools and officials should do more to identify and intervene early.

Craig Kerley, a Roswell-based child psychologist who worked in Gwinnett County schools for several years, agreed. Though Kerley never treated McCurley or students in Cherokee County, he told The AJC the key is early intervention.

There is a stark difference but thin line between thoughts written in a journal and plans for an attack, Kerley said. He said often adolescents are crying out for help or having suicidal thoughts.

Thomas and Kerley said on separate occasions that if schools had better mental health resources students who feel bullied or depressed would have better access to help.

“If you’re going to be ‘zero tolerance’ about weapons and stuff they should do it in school with bullies,” Thomas said.

RELATED: DeKalb schools ask if students are mentally ready for classes to begin

She said anyone who’d spent five minutes with McCurley would know she was a sweet girl. 

“She’s 17, but go talk to her; her head ain’t 17,” she said.

Social media posts made by McCurley appear to show her as a troubled individual who romanticizes events such as the Columbine massacre in pictures.

Her Instagram profile picture is the character Tyler Durden from the 1999 movie “Fight Club,” which is about a depressed man living with multiple personalities who is encouraged to destroy people, places and things through an underground club for fighting. On Facebook, McCurley quotes the band Tool, with the lyric, “My precious lamb and martyr. I have found some kind of temporary sanity in this.”

“She was asking, begging for help and no one paid attention,” Thomas said.

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