Teen arrested after tip about planned mass shooting at Leto High
TAMPA – A 17-year-old former Leto High School student is behind bars after a tipster alleged the teen was planning a mass shooting at the school.
Austin James Cook is charged with solicitation to commit murder and threatening to discharge a destructive device. A judge today ordered him held without bail.
Between March and July 1, Cook solicited someone to kill “any and all employees or student body of Leto High School” on Nov. 11, 2011, documents state.
A .22-caliber rifle was seized from Cook’s home, along with a bow and arrow and several books about firearms, an arrest report states. A computer with a Columbine High School video game on it also was taken.
Cook told several witnesses he planned to “blow up” Leto High and “advised one specific witness that he wanted to ‘break the record’ of Columbine and Virginia Tech and shoot/kill everybody he could,” the report states.
Cook denied the accusations and said he had been joking with a friend, the report states.
His arrest came after an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers in July.
The teen’s mother denied her son made any threats, saying she believes the tip came from someone her son “had a beef with.”
Dawn Hicks said her son knew he wouldn’t graduate because of poor grades but had no animosity toward anyone at Leto.
“My son is not that kind of person,” she said. “He never had any problems in school. He never had problems with teachers. He liked school.”
Hicks said she learned of the allegations when deputies arrested her son Monday at their home, 7220 Creekwood Court.
She said her son has been in trouble before: an arrest at the school in April on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge; and a later arrest for puncturing tires. Cook pleaded no contest on the criminal mischief charge and is serving two years of probation, his mother said.
Hicks said she routinely checked her son’s Facebook and MySpace accounts, which he accessed on the seized computer.
“I didn’t see anything that would make me worry.”
She said the person her son allegedly tried to solicit is one of his friends.
As for the seized firearm, Hicks said it is a wall-mounted rifle that belonged to her father.
“It was rusted and hadn’t been used in at least 40 years,” she said.
One of the witnesses listed in the arrest report told The Tampa Tribune he “thought it was a joke” when Cook said “he wanted to kill the entire school.”
He said Cook made the comment in July as they and other teens were leaving a pizzeria.
“I didn’t think he was serious,” said the witness, whose name is being withheld because he is a minor.
But sheriff’s spokesman Larry McKinnon said the department does take the case seriously.
“We take it that he was obviously going to perform this, that he was obviously going to do this,” McKinnon said. “We don’t see it as a joke.”
Cook was a junior at Leto High, 4409 W. Sligh Ave., during the last school year but is no longer enrolled, school district spokesman Steve Hegarty said.
He said Cook had no school disciplinary problems last year.
“Maybe the sheriff’s office has something to a motive, but we don’t,” Hegarty said.