Charges: Duluth man described plans for school, theater shootings

Anthony Warner Busch
Travis John Anthony Warner Busch
Courtesy St. Louis County Jail

By Tom Olsen, Duluth News Tribune

Updated: 12:54 p.m. | Posted: 11:28 a.m.

Authorities say a Duluth man whose threats prompted a citywide lockdown on schools last week referred to a school shooter as "my hero," compared his firearm capabilities to those of the man who killed 58 people in Las Vegas and described how he could barricade a movie theater and shoot people like "fish in a barrel."

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

The details were described in a criminal complaint charging 35-year-old Travis John Anthony Warner Busch with felony counts of making terroristic threats and possession of a machine gun conversion kit.

Police said Busch was working as a job coach, supervising a worker in the Duluth East High School cafeteria on Friday, when he communicated those messages to a "third party," who in turn notified law enforcement.

Officers entered the school with weapons drawn, escorting Busch out. He was unarmed, but police found a loaded and cocked .357 pistol in the trunk, according to the complaint.

At a search of his downtown apartment, authorities said they recovered multiple firearms, including one that would have fully automatic capabilities.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Dale Harris set Busch's bail at $200,000.

"I don't think we can highlight enough the enormous concern for public safety that the state has in this matter," St. Louis County prosecutor Kristen Swanson told the court at Busch's arraignment hearing.

Defense attorney Matthew Miller said Busch has spent the last six years working for Choice, Inc., a Twin Cities-based nonprofit that provides employment services for people with intellectual disabilities. A representative for the organization declined to comment.

According to the complaint:

Police were notified shortly after noon that Busch had been making a series of threats toward law enforcement over the past several hours and was at a high school in Duluth.

Officers eventually determined he was working in the cafeteria at East, supervising a cafeteria employee. Law enforcement notified the district and East was placed on lockdown, as were all public, private and parochial schools for a time.

Armed officers entered the school, finding Busch inside a locked cold storage room with the person he was supervising. He was taken to St. Luke's hospital for an evaluation before he was cleared to be booked into the St. Louis County Jail.

Authorities said they recovered a number of messages sent by Busch, including:

• "Don't do that I will murder (every) cop at my door"
• "I can get in with a few machine guns, kill the one officer first and go to town"
• "Oh by the way this is hypothetical"
• "If the cops come they will die through the door"
• "Just pretend you didn't hear, I am going to do what I do"
• "There are no innocent"

At another point, Busch shared a link to a YouTube video of a school shooter, who he referred to as "my hero," speaking at his sentencing.

The messages also included a discussion of a "variety of modifications that he can make and has made to various firearms he owns," comparing his capabilities to those of Stephen Paddock, who used a bump stock to fire into a crowd at a musical festival on the Las Vegas Strip in October 2017.

In another message, when asked if he had a specific plan, Busch replied: "I have lots of plans."

He went on to state that he could padlock shut a movie theater with a lower entrance and shoot people like "fish in a barrel." In the alternative, he said he could shoot up the high school.

"I'm at school and I don't know what I am going to do," he allegedly wrote. "I seem to still lack the fortitude to take this gun out and start shooting."

Asked what would happen if law enforcement responded, Busch stated he would "get them to shoot me" because "I will die before I let them take me."

Police said the handgun was found inside a boot in the trunk of Busch's car in the school parking lot. It was cocked and loaded with hollow point rounds, with one round in the chamber.

Another four firearms were recovered in a search of his apartment, 113 W. First St. They included an 8-mm bolt-action rifle with a round in the chamber; a pump-style Remington 141 rifle; a Beretta handgun with one round in the chamber and a loaded magazine; and a Ruger 10/22 with a scope, collapsible buttstock and a banana-style magazine.

A box for a slide-fire TAC-22 modification, which authorities said is believed to give the Ruger fully automatic capabilities, was also located. Also seized was a rifle grip and trigger assembly that had a selector switch with options for semi-automatic and fully automatic fire.

Miller, the defense attorney, said his client has mental health diagnoses and believes that he was not thinking clearly at the time he made the statements. He added that he does not believe the weapons were actually capable of fully automatic fire, indicating a probable cause challenge would likely be made to that charge.

Each charge carries a maximum of five years in prison. Busch, a native of Texas, does not appear to have any prior criminal history.

He is scheduled to be back in court on April 30.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.