- NEW BEDFORD, Mass.
- Three New Bedford High School students were arrested Saturday for allegedly
plotting what police said was a Columbine-like murder spree at the school.
The students were arrested at their homes after a janitor found a letter
Tuesday outlining their plans to detonate explosives, shoot students as
they fled the school, then kill themselves when police arrived, police
Police seized bomb-making instructions, knives, shotgun shells and pictures
of the suspects holding what appeared to be handguns from the suspects'
homes in this coastal city of 100,000 residents about 50 miles south of
The suspects referred to themselves as the "Trenchcoat Mafia"
-- the same as a group Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold
were said to be associated with -- and wanted to model their attack after
that massacre, police said.
"They said specifically it would be bigger than Columbine," New
Bedford Police Chief Arthur Kelly said.
Harris and Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded 26 people
before killing themselves in April 1999 at Columbine High School in suburban
Eric McKeehan, 17, and two juveniles whom police did not identify, face
charges including conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit assault
and battery with a dangerous weapon, and possession of ammunition.
McKeehan is being held on $10,000 cash bail. The two juvenile suspects
are being held on $5,000 cash bail. Their arraignments are scheduled for
Attempts to reach McKeehan's family were unsuccessful.
Police said they plan to arrest at least two other students in connection
with the plot. Those students are cooperating, New Bedford Police Lt. Richard
Jenna Reed, 15, a Dartmouth resident who used to hang out with McKeehan
and his younger brother, recalled when McKeehan joked about "how cool
it would be to pretend to blow up the school."
Reed, interviewed at the Dartmouth Mall on Saturday evening, said none
of McKeehan's friends felt threatened.
"He talked about it but he was joking around," Reed said. "I'd
never expect him to do anything like that."
Saturday's arrests came after an investigation that started Oct. 17 when
a student told police about the alleged plot. The following week, police
questioned one of the suspects after they found bomb-making materials at
property off of school grounds.
But the bomb lacked key elements that would arm it, so police could not
make an arrest, Kelly said.
They decided to move after the janitor found the letter on a floor at the
high school, which has about 3,300 students. The letter didn't say when
the killings would happen, except that it would happen on a Monday.
"We decided not to let another Monday go by," Kelly said.
Police plan to search the school Sunday with bomb-sniffing dogs, and open
as usual on Monday.
"Everything is in place to assure the students, staff, parents and
community that the school will be safe for occupany," Kelly said.
McKeehan lives with a friend in a three-story house on Cottage Street in
New Bedford, according to neighbors. He moved in this summer, they said.
"Eric seemed very quiet," downstairs neighbor Lilian Ramos said.
"It's shocking. I have children who live here."
There was no answer Saturday when a reporter knocked at the second and
third floor apartments.
School committee member Kevin Finnerty said McKeehan is a junior and the
other two are freshmen, but he did not know them personally.
"It's always been a very safe school," he said. "We've never
had any really serious incidents there."
After the Columbine killings, Finnerty said school administrators participated
in crisis management training and a closed circuit video system that "covers
the whole building" was installed. There are no metal detectors.
"If it could happen here, it could happen anywhere," Finnerty
Copyright 2001 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing Inc.