TAMPA — They found ingredients to build pipe bombs. They found schematics for Freedom High School. They found a manifesto, a plot to kill even more people than the 13 massacred in 1999 at Columbine High.
Police this week thwarted a "catastrophic event the likes of which Tampa has not seen," Chief Jane Castor said at a news conference midday Wednesday.
An hour earlier, skinny, shaggy-haired Jared Cano had appeared in juvenile court, accused of it all.
The 17-year old, who was expelled last year from Freedom, buried his face in his lap until he was called before the judge. He had been arrested Tuesday in front of his mother and had spent the night in juvenile detention. The state had not yet decided whether to prosecute him as an adult. He hung his head as a prosecutor listed what police found in his room.
He stood alone.
Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan asked where his parents were.
His mouth quivered. He said he didn't know.
• • •
Police got the anonymous tip at 11:50 a.m. Tuesday: An expelled Freedom student was planning to discharge explosives at the school in Tampa Palms. They said he had specific plans for violence next Tuesday, the first day of school, targeting two faculty members and any nearby students.
At 6:30 p.m., the suspect's mother consented to a search of their Cypress Run at Tampa Palms apartment, where officers found materials to construct pipe bombs: a fuel source, shrapnel, plastic tubing and timing and fusing devices. They also found a journal with a minute-by-minute plan and "disturbing statements" about his intent to kill.
Cano did not make admissions to police, but prosecutors say he verbally had acknowledged his plan to discharge a bomb and cause mass casualties.
Court records show that Cano's parents, Michelle and Alexander Cano, divorced in 1998 and the mother was granted custody of two children. His mother is listed as a math teacher at Riverview High School in south Hillsborough. Attempts to reach her and other family members were not successful.
His father has been arrested numerous times, the first two for contempt of court involving domestic violence injunctions around the time of the divorce. He has since been convicted of DUI with property damage or personal injury.
Police think Cano, who they said is now home schooled, was acting alone.
Hillsborough school officials joined police in crediting the anonymous tipster, noting the importance of public vigilance in preventing a repeat of Columbine. Freedom principal Chris Farkas said he thanks that tipster for courage.
Farkas said he thinks teachers would have stopped Cano if they had seen him on campus in north Hillsborough County.
Had the plan played out, the police Regional Bomb Team reports, Cano's materials were "capable of taking multiple lives."
In the apartment, police also found a marijuana growing operation, with lights, plants and a digital scale.
Cano faces charges of possessing bombmaking materials; threatening to throw, project, place or discharge a destructive device; cultivating marijuana; and possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
The charges are not his first.
• • •
Cano's name has been in police reports since 2007:
Stealing CDs. Walking around his apartment complex with a stun gun. Yelling profanities at his mother from the backseat of a patrol car. Stashing a pipe in his pants.
He was in 10th grade at Freedom in January 2010 when he told police he got bad grades because he does not pay attention. He said he had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder but was not taking medication.
In March 2010, Cano was expelled. His principal didn't disclose the reason but said it related to a police matter. Records show that was the month he was accused of stealing a gun from a friend's grandfather. When police showed up at Cano's house, the teen met them shirtless, wielding an aluminum baseball bat.
Police said they repeatedly ordered Cano to drop the bat and had to use force. Police said Cano admitted stealing the gun, which they found with its serial number filed off, but there were complications in the case.
Cano has never been convicted. He has undergone pretrial diversion and faced sanctions but was not under any at the time of his arrest Tuesday night.
By Wednesday, the news had reached his friends.
"I always knew there was something a little bit off about him," said Nicolette Thyne French, 17.
French, a Chamberlain High School cheerleader, said she had known Cano since they attended Adams Middle School, but they lost touch after he left.
"He faked his own death," she said, explaining that a few years ago he renamed his MySpace page "RIP Jared Cano," and he didn't respond to friends when they tried to contact him.
French said they recently connected on Facebook, and he started to get attached. She felt he was emotionally unstable. "He wanted to be with me — like, more than friends. . . . Told me he loved me and all this stuff. I was just telling him, 'I can't be with you.'. . .
"It might have been a breaking point for him."
He wrote her off as a friend, she said, but reached out this week and asked her to forgive him.
French said she was surprised by his arrest and thought he just wanted attention.
On his Facebook page, Cano chronicled his life. He wrote extensively about marijuana and posted photos of himself smoking out of a pipe, drinking out of a bottle of Olde English malt liquor and holding a large knife.
The morning before his arrest, Cano wrote on his Facebook page:
i jut (sic) did the dumbest thing ever!
• • •
In court Wednesday, the judge asked if he had anything to say.
"I don't know what to say. . . ," the teen said.
His public defender said, "He doesn't want to say anything right now."
The judge asked if he wanted to say anything without speaking about his charges, and the teen began to speak:
"The plan wasn't … ,"
But his public defender interrupted: "Don't say anything," she said.
"I can talk," Cano said. "I'm allowed to say what I want."
The public defender asked the judge for a second to talk to him. She whispered in the teen's ear, and then she said, "He has no comment."
Cano is being held in secure detention.
He will return to court on Sept. 2 for an arraignment.
Times staff writer Marlene Sokol and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com. John Barry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.