In teen's house, police find guns, hate

A 15-year-old in Clearwater had collected a small arsenal and supremacist literature, police say.

Published February 18, 2006

CLEARWATER - The 15-year-old Clearwater High School sophomore practiced his marksmanship, fashioned homemade silencers and studied military manuals.

He also amassed neo-Nazi hate literature and made disturbing comments to fellow students, authorities say.

After one of those remarks, Christopher Rodriguez came to the attention of Clearwater police, who searched his home.

What detectives found inside shocked them.

"It appears literally to be the assembled tools of a tragedy in the making," police Chief Sid Klein said Friday. "The materials that we discovered in the possession of this teen are more than unsettling. It's downright frightening."

Rodriguez, whose nickname is Nazi, had a small arsenal, including a Russian SKS semiautomatic rifle and a .22-caliber derringer with its serial number filed off, police said. The pistol had been fitted for a homemade silencer. His computer had numerous photos and files from white supremacist Web sites.

Police charged Rodriguez with two weapons possession violations on Jan. 18. He has since been in the Pinellas County Juvenile Detention Center.

Investigators found no evidence of a plan to use the weapons or a list of potential victims.

But their investigation led to another student, Rodriguez's closest friend, who is enrolled in Clearwater High's night GED program. His room contained many knives, battered baseball bats, BB guns, gas masks, hundreds of bullets, a crossbow and a map of the school campus posted on his wall. Prosecutors will decide whether that 16-year-old, whose name was withheld Friday, is charged.

Considering their extreme views, access to weapons and proficiency in using them, there's no telling what violence the teens could have unleashed, police say.

"We may never know exactly what might have been planned or what might have happened," Klein said. "That's a good thing. It was stopped before it unfolded."

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Rodriguez, a slender boy with blond hair, bad acne and few friends, drew the attention of school officials and police on Jan. 18, investigative records show. A teacher contacted an assistant principal after learning of two comments Rodriguez had made.

In one, he said he always carried a knife. In the other, he said, "Why do you sit me next to people that I want to shoot?"

An assistant principal and School Resource Officer Thomas Dawe escorted Rodriguez to the office and asked him if he had any weapons. Rodriguez consented to a search, then reached into his duffel bag and pulled out brass knuckles.

He initially said he used them as a belt buckle, but Dawe noted they had been wrapped with electrical tape to soften the grip. The officer also noticed several drawings of guns, homemade silencers and swastikas. In Rodriguez's bag, Dawe found a ski mask and gloves.

A manila folder contained paper and several class assignments. One sheet of paper had been divided into two columns; one was titled "Likes," the other "Dislikes."

The column of "Likes" was empty. But beneath the other heading, he had written a long list of racial and ethnic groups.

Clearwater police then went to his home at S Pegasus Avenue, where he lives with his grandfather, Charles Rodriguez, who acts as his guardian.

The two rifles in his possession were bought legally with his grandfather. Dan Noll of Deer Hunter Guns on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard sold him a World War II-era rifle on Dec. 29.

"To be honest, he knew more about it than me," Noll said.

Charles Rodriguez told investigators that his grandson would sit in a darkened room and practice taking the rifles apart and re-assembling them. Reached by phone on Friday, his grandfather hung up on a reporter seeking comment.

Christopher Rodriguez later told detectives he had bought the handgun during winter break from a friend for $60.

Police also confiscated Rodriguez's computer. On it, they found a cache of video files showing real-life executions. He also had a copy of the surveillance tape showing Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shooting at students in the cafeteria of Columbine High School in 1999.

One file on his computer drew the Secret Service into the investigation. It was an image showing PresidentBush and Vice President Dick Cheney with targets and swastikas over their heads.

Rodriguez was arrested on two charges: felony possession of a weapon on school grounds, the brass knuckles, and misdemeanor possession of the derringer.

"It was just exceptional police work," Klein said, noting the efforts of the school resource officers.

About a week after his arrest, a ninth-grader recounted a disturbing conversation involving Rodriguez in a report to police:

"Some friends of mine and Chris Rodriguez were joking around one morning and one of my friends said to me, "If somebody were to do something like Columbine, I think Chris would be the one to do it.' Chris overheard this and said, "Yeah, I would.' "

* * *

School officials say Rodriguez had not shown any previous signs of being troubled. In fact, he had impressed teachers as a smart student who earned good grades and showed proficiency with foreign languages.

He was enrolled in German, algebra, American government, English, science and a leadership course.

"There is a pretty serious situation, but unfortunately this is a situation that could be repeated in any high school in the country," said Pinellas County schools spokesman Sterling Ivey. "Sometimes you just don't know what is going on in a student's mind."

Ivey said the district began to notify parents about the situation after learning the St. Petersburg Times planned to publish an article about Rodriguez's arrest. School officials were confident they had given due attention to Rodriguez, who did not display any warning signals, Ivey said.

"Everything was done appropriately and, probably because of our great partnership with the school resource officers and the Clearwater Police Department, they were able to move very quickly in identifying the threat," he said.

However, at least one classroom assignment has been collected by police. It is a cartoon showing stick-men with machine guns killing a group of people. Above one of the armed figures reads the caption, "Run Frenchy."

Ivey said drawing was completed in Rodriguez's American government class. The assignment was to depict one of the powers of Congress. He chose to illustrate the power to declare war.

Rodriguez got a 30 on the drawing, a perfect score.

Staff writer Jose Cardenas and staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Jacob H. Fries can be reached at 445-4156 or jfries@sptimes.com