SEMINOLE — A sharp-eyed school employee was the first to alert officials to the potential threat of a Columbine-style massacre at Seminole High School.
The employee, whom officials would not identify other than to say he isn't a teacher, noticed a student on March 4 marking a map of the school. He questioned the student and when no answers were forthcoming, went to an assistant principal.
The assistant principal talked with the student and discovered he had a book on the Columbine High School massacre. At that point the school resource officer was called in and the student stopped talking, said Pinellas sheriff's spokesman Tom Nestor.
"Of course, with the red flags, the deputy wouldn't leave it at that," Nestor said.
The deputy spoke to four of the teen's friends who admitted the boy had talked about planning a Columbine-style shooting at Seminole High. The students said they had hesitated to come forward because they "wanted to make sure he wasn't kidding," Nestor said.
The deputy admitted the boy, Nathanial Zeno, who also uses the name Nathan McGrath, 16, to a mental health facility under the state's Baker Act. He continued to investigate and, when Zeno was released from the hospital Wednesday, he was charged with solicitation to commit first-degree murder and was taken to the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center.
Nestor said no other arrests are expected.
"Our processes worked," Seminole High principal Walter Weller said Friday. Teachers, staff and students "did what we asked them to do" by reporting what they knew and prevented a "much more catastrophic" situation.
Students seemed to be taking the news in stride Friday. Teachers warned students not to exaggerate the facts, said freshman Chloe Brunotte, 15. Brunotte said she was neither fearful for her safety — Zeno was no longer in school — nor particularly surprised that a Seminole student might hatch such a plot. "There's a lot of kids in the school," she said. "Someone's going to be crazy."
Nestor said Friday that Zeno had no previous record with the Sheriff's Office.
Deputy Richard North said in the arrest affidavit that a female student told him Zeno had asked her on March 2 to "assist him in the elimination of people at Seminole High School involved in the cruelty to or killing of animals."
And North pointed to a website, deviantart.com. Zeno, he said, had a journal there under the name "blackfoxfurry7." The last entry at 1:51 p.m. March 4, the day he was taken to the hospital, noted his mood as "worried," and said:
"To anyone who cares or anyone who is reading this, but especially my friends; I might be going to jail.
"I planned to shoot up my school and was caught while marking a map. I might be going to jail and I'm terrified. This isn't a joke.
"If I don't send another journal within a week, I'm in jail.
"Goodbye and good luck, especially you, Smookie, Brighty, and Silvermist."
Reach Anne Lindberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450. Times staff writer Curtis Krueger and researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.