Deputies release more details in thwarted Columbine-style Sumter County school shooting

511 students absent from school Friday, deputies say

By Dawn Jorgenson - Graham Media Group, Jennifer Ortega - Reporter

THE VILLAGES, Fla. - Two teenagers were arrested Thursday for their involvement in a plan to carry out a mass shooting at The Villages Charter Middle School, the Sumter County Sheriff's Office said.

Deputies said school officials became aware of a rumor circulating on Tuesday about a mass shooting that was to take place on Friday.

A student told deputies about overhearing Zachary Shearon, 13, say that he was going to "shoot up the school on Friday.”

Authorities intercepted Shearon on Wednesday morning as he arrived for school. They then began an investigation, during which they said the boy acknowledged conversations involving the plot and referenced the shooting at Columbine High School.

[PHOTOS: Attack planned at school in The Villages]
 

When the school resource officer and principal spoke with Shearon, he told them that he "made a dumb statement" after school dismissal.

Shearon told officials that he had been talking to his friend Richard Hummer, 14, about the Columbine High School shooting, specifically the shooting in the cafeteria.

"Imagine if that was me shooting," Shearon told Hummer.

Another student then overheard Shearon telling students around him to not come to school on Friday.

Shearon asked the resource officer if he could speak with him in private and disclosed that he had been dealing with bad depression and he “had thoughts of ending it all.”

"I just want to die," Shearon told the resource officer.

Hummer told deputies that he had had a discussion with Shearon when they were in their third period class.

Shearon told Hummer that “when he drops the pencil in the gym, it means go,” according to the Sheriff’s Office report. 

Hummer explained to deputies that "go" meant "shoot," the report said.

Deputies asked Hummer if he had been involved in the planning of the school shooting.

He replied, "Yes."

Shearon told Hummer to meet him at the gym in the morning. Hummer then told Shearon when he drops the pencil, just walk in and open fire.

Hummer told deputies he discussed the plan with Shearon because he thought it was a joke, the arrest report stated.

"So it was going to start with a drop of a pencil," Capt. Chris Haworth, with the Sumter County Sheriff's Office, said. "They were going to do it in the morning because, I guess, there is breakfast. They feed all the children in a central location, and they were going to initiate it at that time because there are more targets at that time."

Sumter County officials said no weapons were found on either of the students, nor in their bags or lockers. They were both arrested at their homes on Thursday during the execution of search warrants. Deputies said loaded firearms were recovered at both their homes during the search.

Other students told deputies they heard Shearon tell students to wear a white shirt on Friday and use the code word "Eugene" to avoid being shot, the report said.

In the report, someone told deputies Shearon attended a Holocaust tribute, at which he allegedly showed up with swastikas on his hands and a Nazi logo on his arms.

After searching his Instagram account, deputies found a picture of the two Columbine High School shooters with the caption "The Columbine High School Basketball Team has not been the same since it lost its two best shooters."

"(I) didn't believe it -- still don't believe it,” said Scott Bowling, who has lived next door to the Hummer family for 10 years. “(This is a) good family. He's a good boy. I watched him grow up and it's just totally out of his demeanor.”

Bowling and his wife watched 14-year-old Richard Hummer grow up. They said he goes by the nickname Trey.

"He played with my granddaughter,” Barb Bowling said. “Every time she was out here, he would come running over and they played ball. There’s no way. I mean, Trey, he wouldn't hurt a fly.”

Added Scott Bowling, "It's a good thing they took it serious, just in case. I guess if we didn't know them, it would be a different story. To me, I feel perfectly safe living next door to them. … Honestly, I'm hoping deep down this was just a boy's prank and it blew up out of proportion on them and now they're going to have to suffer for it.”

Vicki Boaz was one of the many who seemed very surprised by the news.

"We had our granddaughter at the house and she told us about it and it was really, really shocking," Boaz said.

Boaz said she decided to keep her granddaughter at home, making her one of the 511 students who were absent Friday, according to the Sheriff's Office.

"They said if you don't feel safe, you can have the kids at home and all that. That's what we're doing," Boaz said.

But some parents said that with the stepped-up patrol, they felt the campus was safe and said you can't live your life in fear.

"We have to keep going and we have to be vigilant and try to be safe," one parent said.

News 6 spoke to a mother who knows one of the teens who deputies say was involved. Robin Carr said she can't believe something like this happened.

"Shocked. Actually, we know one of them personally. It's just completely shocked. Not the kind of child or family that would send red flags at all," Carr said.

The Villages Charter Middle School sent a letter to parents Friday. School officials say student safety is their No. 1 concern.

[Read the letter sent to VCS parents below]

"I'm disturbed, but we were prepared, and one of the things that I like to think about is that our 'see something, say something' program obviously worked," Haworth said. "They said something. We were able to do something about it and we averted a catastrophe, so that's how I look at it."

The Sumter County Sheriff's Office victims advocate and The Villages Charter Middle School counselors will be available at the school Monday for those who need their services. The Sumter County Sheriff's Office said they will continue an increased deputy presence throughout next week. 

Watch News 6 for more on this story.

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