As the Cherokee County sheriff tried to imagine what motivated two high school students accused of attempted murder in his county, the infamous Columbine High School shooting came to mind.
“We prevented something from happening," Frank Reynolds said. “We saved potential lives.”
Etowah High School students Alfred Dupree and Victoria McCurley had access to firearms, but Reynolds said they more likely planned to use a flammable device not unlike a bottle-based petrol bomb commonly known as a Molotov cocktail against school staff.
“It was in a container and it had the potential for implementing like a Molotov cocktail,” Reynolds said Thursday during a news conference. “(There was) no ignition device or anything like that.”
The two 17-year-old juniors, who will be tried as adults on attempted murder and other charges, were denied bond during their first court appearances Thursday. Their case will be heard in Cherokee County Superior Court.
Reynolds said this would have been a “Columbine-type incident” if it had not been thwarted.
In 1999, two teenagers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, went on a shooting spree, killing 13 people and wounding more than 20 others before turning the guns on themselves. While authorities never determined with certainty the teens’ motives, that they felt bullied may have been a factor.
Reynolds called the person who provided the tip about the Etowah students’ threats “a hero.”
Dupree and McCurley had a “hit list” and the people on that list were contacted by the sheriff’s office, but Reynolds wouldn’t say more.
A man who said his name was Frank called WSB Radio on Wednesday night and said his daughter, who is on the homecoming court, was one of about five people on that list.
“After we sat down (with authorities) in our home, we eventually found out what was taking place,” Frank said.
His daughter said she never worried about Dupree or McCurley, but she recognized they were “somewhat different than the other kids.”
The man said to find out his daughter was one of the people on that list made him think about how precious life is and not to take it for granted. He said his daughter is busy preparing for homecoming and “not missing a step or a beat at all.”
Dupree, of Acworth, and McCurley, of Woodstock, each face three counts of criminal attempt to commit murder and four counts of making terroristic threats and acts. They also face charges of criminal attempt to commit arson and possession or transportation of a destructive device or explosive intending to kill, injure or destroy any public building.
What police know about the teenagers’ intentions is largely gleaned from a diary Dupree kept, the sheriff’s office said. As the investigation is ongoing, officials aren’t releasing more information about statements Dupree made in that diary, sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Marianne Kelley said.
In addition, the arrest warrants were sealed by Chief Magistrate Judge James Drane III. During Thursday’s first appearance, Drane told both teens not to have any contact with students or staff at Etowah.
But social media posts made by McCurley appear to show her as a troubled individual who romanticizes events such as the Columbine massacre in pictures.
The profile picture on an Instagram profile with pictures of a teenage girl who resembles McCurley is an image of 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.
The image reads, “In him we trust. Tyler Durden.”
In addition to pictures of McCurley, the account includes an Oct. 11 post with an image of a student involved in the Columbine shooting above this caption and an Oct. 18 post showing a so-called bulletproof blanket shielding students in a hallway during a school shooting.
The previous month, a post featured what appears to be writing on a wall.
“Lost children with dirty faces today but no one really seems to care,” according to the post.
Authorities received the tip about the threats Monday and interviewed Dupree and his family that night. Police and the sheriff’s office acted quickly, taking the threats seriously and informing parents Tuesday.
Reynolds said the tipster-turned-hero also underscores a neccesity on the part of parents to watch over their kids’ use of social media. And though he said he understands the sometimes dark emotions teenagers can have, adults in their lives must take them seriously.
“We look at some of the incidents like Columbine and you have 17-year-olds committing horrendous crimes and murdering folks,” Reynolds said. “We can’t let that emotion play into it; we have to look at facts and circumstances.”
Reynolds called himself a community leader with a vested interest, with family members who are teachers in the school system and children who are students. He insisted parents need to have access to their children’s social media accounts.
“My children have that condition: at any time Mom and Dad can go in their room,” Reynolds said. “You have to be nosy; you never know what your children are going to get into.”
McCurley’s home had an incendiary device that Kelley described as flammable.
“I am so thankful for the person who reported them,” Woodstock parent Paige Post told The AJC. “I can't begin to imagine what kind of destruction could have been done.”
While many students and parents were shocked, others were thankful someone reported the teens.
“The real hero in the whole thing is whoever reported it,” Andy Waldron, whose son is a senior at Etowah, said. “God bless them because they likely saved lives.”
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