By Daina Beth Solomon
SOUTH PASADENA Calif. (Reuters) - Two teenagers who conspired to kill three staffers and many students at a high school in a Los Angeles suburb might have been able to use a gun belonging to one boy's relatives, and they planned a gunfight with officers, police said on Tuesday.
Police in South Pasadena said they arrested the two students, aged 16 and 17, on Monday when they raided their homes. Since then, students and officials have expressed relief the attack was prevented at South Pasadena High, which has 1,500 students and begins classes on Thursday.
Detectives learned of the plot last Thursday from school administrators and investigators worked around the clock to unravel the potentially deadly plan which the two boys devised in exchanges of Internet messages, said South Pasadena police chief Arthur Miller.
“As they put it, they just wanted to kill as many people as possible,” Miller said at a news conference on Tuesday. “There was no target date but they had a very, very specific plan.”
The students discussed via Internet messages plans to make explosives and researched what type of guns to use, how to shoot one and how to fix a firearm that malfunctioned, police said.
They also were willing to engage police in a gunfight, said South Pasadena police spokesman Sergeant Brian Stolinsky.
The teens, whose names were not released because they are minors, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy and criminal threats and will be charged in juvenile court, police said.
The boys did not possess any weapons but one had a relative in the area who owns a handgun and it was "pretty feasible" they could have obtained it, Stolinsky said.
In South Pasadena, an affluent suburb of 24,000 residents about eight miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, the president of the school board said in a statement the community's "student-focused" culture ensured the threat was taken seriously.
Sunshine Cho, 17, a South Pasadena High student, said the community is close-knit. "I'm grateful that it didn't happen," Cho said of the planned attack.
In May, a 16-year-old boy suspected of threatening to attack his school was arrested at his apartment in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, where officers found a device intended to look like a bomb but containing no explosives. Later, the case was suspended and he was not charged because of a lack of evidence, said Chandler police spokesman Sergeant Joe Favazzo.
(Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by James Dalgleish)