US police say two high school students had a pair of loaded handguns, a drawing depicting a killing and the intention of randomly shooting people on campus.
The boys, aged 15 and 16, were arrested on Thursday, after the older boy’s stepfather contacted West Covina police to say his guns were missing from a gun locker.
One student was arrested at home and the other at school.
Police found a Glock .40-calibre handgun, a Smith & Wesson .357-calibre handgun and several rounds of rifle ammunition at the home of the older boy, but no rifle.
Investigators also seized a drawing one of the boys made, depicting a hooded figure shooting another character in the head. Underneath the drawing, the word “Exterminate” was written, West Covina police spokesman Ron Mitchell said last night.
The boys had previously taken the weapons onto the campus of Covina High School three times, and they told investigators they were considering using them, Mitchell said.
“Due to the interviews, we were of the mind that they were, at some point, they were going to randomly shoot people at school,” Mr Mitchell said.
The 16-year-old was charged yesterday with conspiracy to commit murder, grand theft of a firearm, being a minor in possession of a handgun and having a firearm on campus, district attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said.
The other boy, age 15, faces the same counts except instead of grand theft, he is charged with receiving stolen property.
The boys, whose names were not released because of their ages, remained in juvenile custody last night and their arraignment was set for Monday.
Covina and West Covina are neighbouring cities about 20 miles east of the centre of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley.
Covina High School Principal Claudia Karnoski said she conducted her own investigation. She said the boys had shown the loaded guns to three or four friends who failed to alert teachers, apparently because they did not want to get into trouble.
Ms Karnoski said one of the arrested boys had told the group, “’We should shoot up the quad”’ during an assembly that happened just before spring break, which started April 6.
She said the boy who drew the picture of a shooting had notebooks filled with all kinds of sketches.
“It is disturbing,” she said. “I don’t know what it referred to.”
The principal said that while she takes the incident seriously, it did not rise to the level of a carefully planned school shooting.
“People will automatically think it was a Columbine-type plan. I am not downplaying it, but I don’t think it was to that elevation,” she said.
A decade ago, two students opened fire at Columbine High School in Colorado, killing 13 and wounding 23 before committing suicide.
Ms Karnoski said each of the two Covina High suspects was “like one of the everyday kids” at the school of 1,500, and they had not been in trouble before. She said there was no indication of any grudge against members of staff or students.
Ms Karnoski said officials with the Covina-Valley Unified School District will be considering additional security, including metal detectors. The district serves about 14,000 students at about 20 schools.