Two Teens Were Arrested For Allegedly Planning A Terrorist Act At A High School Prom
Police in Virginia found a semiautomatic rifle and several rounds of ammunition inside a room at the hotel where the prom was taking place.
Two teens have been charged with a conspiracy to commit a terrorist act during a high school prom in Virginia.
Michael Coleman, 18, and an unidentified 17-year-old were arrested following a police investigation into possible threats to the Bayside High School prom in Virginia Beach.
Coleman was also charged with two counts of carrying a concealed weapon and the 17-year-old is facing an additional charge of possessing a firearm. Police did not release the second suspect's name as he is a juvenile.
Virginia Beach police said they received information that two people who were not associated with Bayside High School had tried to buy tickets for the school's prom held on Saturday at the Westin Hotel.
Authorities said they also received information that Coleman was making threats to "unknown individuals." Police added extra officers and safety measures at the prom and began an investigation.
"We did not have any names of any individuals nor did we have any reason why they were trying to do it," Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera said at a news conference on Monday, "but it was kind of unusual for us for someone not associated with the high school or with anyone at the high school to want to buy a ticket to show up at that particular event."
Eileen Cox, a spokesperson for Virginia Beach City Public Schools, told BuzzFeed News that neither suspect attended Bayside High School and that Coleman did not attend any other high school in the district. She said the unidentified juvenile was enrolled in one of the city's schools but was not currently attending class because of a "prior student discipline matter."
Cox said that she believed the tips to police were not sent by the school or any student but came from a member of the community while police were investigating suspicious activity in neighborhoods adjacent to the school.
The investigation led authorities to believe that Coleman and possibly others were staying at the Westin Hotel the night of the prom. An officer spotted Coleman leaving the Westin Hotel on Saturday evening, but the teen allegedly fled on foot into a crowd and managed to evade police. While fleeing, Coleman dropped a 9 mm handgun, police said.
On searching the hotel room Coleman was staying in, police said they found the 17-year-old suspect along with a .45-caliber semiautomatic rifle with a loaded magazine and several rounds of ammunition.
Coleman was later arrested in Norfolk by local police on unrelated charges. Jail records show that Coleman was charged with four felony counts of stabbing with malicious intent, four felony counts of firearm use, and one misdemeanor count of reckless handling of a firearm for an incident that took place the day before the prom. He was arraigned on Monday and is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on June 18.
The juvenile is being held in secure detention pending his trial on June 27, a spokesperson for the Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney told BuzzFeed News. Juvenile cases are automatically set for trial 21 days out from arraignment. The spokesperson said she did not have information about Coleman as the office had not yet received any paperwork on him. The spokesperson said the office could not comment on pending cases.
Cox said that the "several hundred" students who attended the prom on Saturday were not made aware of the possible threat to the event because it was an "ongoing police matter."
After the two suspects were arrested, the principal sent a message to the families of students informing them of the incident.
Blake Stevens, a student at Bayside High School, told the Virginian-Pilot that he had heard about rumors of a threat at prom 10 days earlier but "totally forgot about it."
"We all knew we were safe. We had enough security,” he said, adding that there were six police officers stationed at the prom and that there were several safety precautions in place, including a metal wand detector that was used on all attendees and guests.
Following the Parkland school shooting in Florida, Cox said that schools in the district received a number of social media threats, many of which were determined to be hoaxes, while some resulted in arrests.
She said that students who attended the prom on Saturday were not surprised about the additional security measures, despite being unaware of the threat to the school, because the importance of school safety is discussed on a daily basis with them.
A spokesperson for Bayside High School refused to comment to BuzzFeed News.