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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Three students accused of plot to blow up Tampa high school
By MIKE BRASSFIELD, Times Staff Writer
Published September 7, 2007
John Doan, 17, was charged with threatening to discharge a destructive device on school property, and disrupting a school function.
Mark Stapleton, 16, may have been blowing off steam on MySpace because he and a girlfriend recently broke up.
TAMPA - Police arrested three Freedom High School students Thursday after learning of a plan to blow up the school by igniting gas from Bunsen burners in a science lab.
School officials say that plan was unlikely to work, but police say the students' remarks were reason enough to charge them with felonies. Meanwhile, one boy's grandmother said the incident has been overblown.
"I don't know how real the threat was," said Hillsborough schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty. "We're in an environment where we have to take these things seriously."
Students John Doan, 17, Mark Stapleton, 16, and a 15-year-old were charged with threatening to discharge a destructive device on school property, and disrupting a school function. The Times is not identifying the 15-year-old because of his age.
Thursday's incident caused little disruption at the school, which was not locked down. Most students appeared to be unaware that anything out of the ordinary was happening, Hegarty said.
What led police to investigate the students was a tip from a parent who told them she'd heard about a plan to bring a gun to school.
Wednesday night, a parent had reported that Stapleton told her daughter he was going to bring a gun to school and shoot specific students and a teacher and then kill himself, said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.
However, Stapleton doesn't have a gun.
Undercover officers converged on Freedom High and at Stapleton's apartment complex in New Tampa about 5:30 a.m. Thursday.
Officers confronted the 16-year-old as he walked out of his home toward his bus stop at Richmond Place Apartments. They found no weapons on him or in the apartment he shares with his mother. They also searched the school while students were in class.
Stapleton's family thinks he may have been blowing off steam on a MySpace Web site because he and a girlfriend recently broke up.
"It seems to have to do with MySpace and some chatting that was going on. He was blowing off, I guess, saying some things, and I guess that's what started the problem," said Stapleton's grandmother, Rosemary Herrle.
Officers took Stapleton to school for questioning, where he mentioned two other students who were involved. They were questioned as well.
After consulting with prosecutors, police at first weren't planning to arrest the students because there was no gun.
"Then, in a third round of interviews, that additional information came out," said Davis, the police spokeswoman.
Officers learned the students had discussed using gas from a science lab and a lighter to "blow up the school," Davis said. The three had met at Stapleton's apartment Wednesday afternoon and talked about how they would carry out the plan, she said.
The students have been suspended for 10 days, and district officials plan to recommend that they be expelled.