Two Lawndale High School students who allegedly planned to mark the anniversary of the Columbine massacre by detonating a homemade explosive device on campus are under arrest, Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives said Monday.
The suspects, both males, were taken into custody on March 21 after students told a school security guard that the pair was acting strangely and making bizarre threats.
Sheriff's detectives said they subsequently found a journal in the possession of one of the boys filled with the names of students and teachers they may have been targeting. A nearly completed explosive device that authorities believe was a pipe bomb was also found at one of the suspect's homes, along with instructions downloaded from the Internet.
"The bomb wasn't completed because the instructions were incorrect as to one of the ingredients for homemade gunpowder," Sheriff's Det. Mark Desmarteau said. "It was a serious device that could have caused serious damage and injury."
Detectives said the journal also made references to firearms the teens might have been trying to obtain.
The journal included threats toward classmates and teachers that were "shocking to me and my partner," Desmarteau said. "It wasn't something that someone just writes in passing and you say, 'This is an angry child.' It was a lot more than that."
The two students are being held in Juvenile Hall. Desmarteau said they have been charged with making criminal threats and conspiracy. He said both students were under age 17, but would not specify their ages or what grade they were in at the school. The suspects' names were not released because they are minors.
Authorities said the teens planned to attack Lawndale High the week of April 20, near the anniversary of the Columbine shootings. On April 20, 1999, two students at the school in the upscale Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo., went on a shooting rampage that claimed the lives of 12 students and one teacher and injured 23 others. The shooters then killed themselves.
Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris left behind evidence saying they were targeting anyone who had ever slighted them at the school. Both were said to be intelligent and came from well-to-do families.
Desmarteau would not describe the backgrounds of the suspects. But "they seem to come from good, loving homes with good parents," he said. "It's not a situation where they were running [in] the streets and the parents don't care. The parents were shocked."
Desmarteau said that neither boy had a police record, and that teachers he interviewed said both suspects were intelligent and articulate.
"What we have so far is they were picked on and not accepted" in their classes, he said. "That's what a lot of their writings refer to."
Most students have learned about the plot since the arrests, officials said. The campus was closed for Cesar Chavez Day, and attempts to reach school administrators were not successful.
The school board of the Centinela Valley Union High School District was notified immediately after the arrests, said Patricia Mansfield, a school board member. She credited a close relationship between students and security staff at the school for averting tragedy.
"We were really taken by surprise because we've never had anything like that," Mansfield said. "But I guess now we're getting it too. I don't know what to make about this. It's not the sort of thing you want to guess about."
Times staff writers Joy L. Woodson and David Pierson contributed to this report.