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Family members were inside home when blaze was set
By RUSSELL TURNER
A 14-year-old Greene County boy is in custody after being accused of setting his home ablaze last weekend while members of his family were inside asleep and for also making threats of violence against his school.
The juvenile, who is from the McLain area but has not been publicly identified, was apprehended by local law enforcement officials Monday morning and charged with arson. The home shared by the youngster, his father, stepmother and two step-siblings, was destroyed by fire around 3 a.m. Saturday and the teenager is accused of setting the blaze.
The whereabouts of the young man had not been known since late Friday when he was last seen at the residence on Miss. 57 just south of McLain. His apprehension came after a concerted effort by school and law enforcement officials to make sure he did not make it onto campus at McLain Attendance Center or Greene County High School. Officials became aware late Sunday that the juvenile had reportedly told acquaintances he planned to take a gun or guns to GCHS to deal with problems he was having with other students.
Multiple state troopers and local police were dispatched to GCHS and MAC early Monday and an officer was placed on the bus the ninth grader would have typically ridden to school. Supt. of Education Charles Breland said that other bus drivers in the area were made aware of the situation and advised to call police but not stop for the youngster if they saw him at one of their bus stops.
The young man never made it to either campus. Instead, he was taken into custody without incident just before 8 a.m. Monday at a residence not far from the one he allegedly burned. He is reportedly under the care of a separate agency and undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
School officials alerted parents and guardians of students concerning the incident later in the day on Monday via social media and the school’s phone alert system. Some residents questioned why school officials and police did not notify them earlier about the potential threat. Breland said Tuesday morning the vast majority of the input he received had been positive. He said he appreciated and understood the complaints that had been levied, but believed school and law enforcement officials had responded to the perceived threat appropriately.
“The Greene County School District takes any and all threats to student safety seriously,” Breland told the Herald. “I understand that many may have concerns about the situation, as we all do; however, at no time were students in any danger. “
“Local authorities alerted us to their investigation of the matter and worked with us to ensure a quick and rapid response once information was received. We cooperated with them and the person of question was taken into custody immediately once found. I want to personally thank our Sheriff’s office, McLain Police Department, our state troopers, and our administrators for their quick response and teamwork to ensure the safety of all our students. Each situation is unique and requires a specific response. In this situation authorities acted appropriately and the situation was handled in the best interest of all parties involved.”
Law enforcement officials say they received information late Sunday regarding a potential threat by the young man to ‘shoot up’ Greene County High School. GCHS Principal Scott Bray and Supt. Breland said they were contacted by law enforcement sometime after 9 p.m. Sunday and immediately began working with officials to address the threat.
According to Sheriff Stanley McLeod, the young man had reportedly been in possession of firearms that had been reported stolen from his residence by his father several weeks ago. However, at some point Friday, the father and stepmother discovered the firearms and determined the teen had been hiding them since the time they were reported stolen. When confronted about the guns, police say the youngster said he had been being bullied at school.
Authorities did not have a concrete motive for the arson, but believed he may have set the fire inside the mobile home in retaliation for being punished for taking the weapons and lying to his family about it. They also say he hid in the woods near the residence and watched as firefighters responded to the blaze. State Fire Inspector Ben Brown, who also serves as a deputy with Greene County, ruled the blaze as arson and confirmed the structure was a complete loss. Brown would not go into deeper details about the fire, citing his ongoing investigation.
School officials said that prior to the weekend’s events there had been no sign of problems with the student. They say he was not struggling academically and had not been a disciplinary concern for teachers or administrators.
Sheriff McLeod said the young man admitted to taking the guns and to saying he was going to take a gun(s) to the high school to deal with some students who were bullying him. The sheriff said the boy has not, however, provided any names of the alleged bullies or indicated any other details of the bullying.
McLeod said there is no way to know for sure whether the boy would have acted on his threats, but like Breland, said the issue was taken seriously nonetheless.
“It is just a really bad situation that could have ended with people dying in that fire and possibly a deadly encounter on one of our campuses,” McLeod said of the fire and school threat. “I appreciate all of the help from the school district, the Mississippi Highway Patrol and other agencies that were involved.”
The youngster is currently charged with first degree arson as a juvenile, but authorities say those charges could be upgraded, possibly even to four counts of attempted murder. There are currently no charges associated with the alleged threat to the school.