Waseca prosecutors eye adult charges in teen's plot to kill; school leaders, parents meet

Waseca students, parents
Students, parents and community members stand in the back of the room Thursday to listen as Waseca Police Captain Kris Markeson and Waseca school Superintendent Tom Lee speak at a news conference about the 17-year-old arrested in plot to kill family and massacre students at Waseca school.
Glen Stubbe / The Star Tribune via AP

News of a Waseca teenager's alleged plans to kill his family and bomb his school have shaken the community, the town's school superintendent said Friday.

"We had no inkling," Thomas Lee told MPR News. "In fact, several students are more sad for him because they liked him and considered him a friend and wondered what was going on, and there's some confusion right now with our students."

Some families are scared and concerned, he added, but "the threat has been removed."

Police arrested 17-year-old suspect John David LaDue on Tuesday and charged him in juvenile court Thursday with four counts of attempted first-degree murder, six counts of possessing explosive or incendiary devices and two counts of criminal damage to property.

Waseca County prosecutors filed a motion Friday asking that the teen be charged as an adult. A hearing is set for May 12.

Waseca playground
Bombs were allegedly found in March at the Hartley Elementery School playground in Waseca. Authorities said Thursday that they prevented an "unimaginable tragedy" by foiling a teenager's elaborate plot to kill his family and bomb the junior and senior high schools in Waseca.
Glen Stubbe / The Star Tribune via AP

Students at the high school had Friday off for previously scheduled staff training. School leaders met with parents in the afternoon to answer questions about the case.

Administrators are planning how to best resume classes on Monday. Grief counselors and religious leaders will be available to meet with students and faculty.

"Imagine what it would feel like if there was an attack planned for your work environment," Lee said. "We have to remember schools aren't just places for kids, they're places for adults and it's a work environment for them and everyone needs to feel safe. So we're going to have to be vigilant and watch out for each other and for our students."

Before this week's incident, the district already had school safety training scheduled for later this summer, including integrated training with the Department of Homeland Security and active shooter training with the Waseca Police.

On Thursday, officials said they prevented an "unimaginable tragedy." The charges say LaDue told police he intended to kill "as many students as he could."

Storage facility in Waseca
A warrant was issued to search this storage facility in Waseca in connection with a police investigation into a 17-year-old who was arrested in plot to kill family and massacre students at a Waseca school. Authorities said Thursday that they prevented an "unimaginable tragedy" by foiling the teenager's elaborate plot to kill his family and bomb the junior and senior high schools in town.
Glen Stubbe / The Star Tribune via AP

Investigators reported they'd found a journal at his home corroborating his plans and preparations for the attack.

MPR News is reporting the name of the teen because of the severity of the charges and the high profile nature of the events.

Capt. Kris Markeson told reporters Thursday that authorities believe the teenager was acting alone and would have carried out the attack in the next few weeks if he had not been caught.

Markeson said he was disturbed by the amount of guns and other material the youth obtained. He said he could not divulge if specific students were targeted. He said police were tipped by a resident who reported a suspicious person at a self-storage facility.

"It's just unbelievable," said Marilyn Rucker, a retired pre-school teacher who lives a couple blocks from the storage facility and who had LaDue in one of her classes.

"Thank goodness that she took it seriously," Rucker said. "I'm sure she had no clue what it was at all. And everybody should be very grateful for not just shrugging it off."

Lee on Thursday said the 11th-grader was known to school officials but they had no major issues with him. He said teachers tried to reach out to him, but he was shy.

The investigation began in late March after three small explosive devices were discovered at an elementary school playground in the city of 9,400 people, about 80 miles south of Minneapolis.

The youth allegedly admitted setting off practice bombs there. He allegedly told police he planned to shoot his mother, father and sister, then start a fire in a rural field to distract first-responders while he went to the school to set off pressure-cooker bombs in the cafeteria.

He also allegedly planned to throw Molotov cocktails, gun down students and kill a school liaison officer while he helped injured students.

He said his ultimate goal was for a SWAT team to kill him.

The teen allegedly referenced the Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook school shootings in his notebook, and idolized the Columbine shooters.

Police got a break Tuesday with the tip. An officer found the teen in a storage unit that had numerous materials that could have been used to make bombs.

According to the documents, the boy was initially defensive but told officers he would tell them what he was doing if they could guess correctly. When an officer guessed he was making explosive devices, he allegedly said "Yes" and agreed to speak.

He allegedly told police he would have shot the responding officer if he had brought a gun to the storage unit.

He told police he had ammunition, guns and bombs in his bedroom and provided a key to his gun safe to officers.

Police recovered seven firearms, ammunition and three functional bombs from the boy's home, along with black clothing and a ski mask, KARE-TV reported.

"This case is a classic example of citizens doing the right thing in calling the police when things seem out of place. By doing the right thing, (an) unimaginable tragedy has been prevented," Markeson said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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