Authorities believe the two Etowah High School students who were arrested Wednesday would have carried out the threats in a Columbine-like fashion if they had not been taken into custody.
The arrests were made after police received a tip about potential threats made against the school, located a journal naming their victims and found an “incendiary device” at one of the student’s homes.
Alfred Dupree, 17, of Acworth and Victoria McCurley, 17, of Woodstock were both arrested and each charged with three counts of criminal attempt to commit murder, four counts of terroristic threats and acts, one count of criminal attempt to commit arson and one count of possession and/or transportation of destructive device/explosive with intent to kill, injure or destroy any public building, police said.
Cherokee Sheriff Frank Reynolds said in a press conference Thursday after Dupree and McCurley were denied bond that one of his detectives working the investigation “indicated this would have been a Columbine-type incident.” He said the nature of the threat was reflected in the severity of the charges against the students.
“Because we talked about motive—we can speculate. The concern here is that we prevented something from possibly happening,” he said. “We don’t know if it ever would have. I’m certainly happy that we took quick action and we saved potential lives.”
Reynolds said had the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office and Cherokee County School of Police Department not acted immediately as they did, the threats could have come to fruition.
“I think there was an imminent threat only from the fact that they had detailed plans of what they wanted to do and how they wanted to carry it out and that’s the concerning part about this and that’s why we take it so seriously,” he said, referring to a personal journal found, which outlined threats and specific names of victims at the school, in Dupree’s home during police searches.
Dupree and McCurley made their first court appearance Thursday afternoon in front of Magistrate Court Judge James Drane at the Cherokee County Adult Detention Center. Family for McCurley and Dupree were present at the hearing but declined to give a comment.
Drane ruled there was enough probable cause to support the affidavits against the students. He denied bond for both Dupree and McCurley.
“I’m not going to grant bond at this moment in time,” he said to the students.
Assistant District Attorney Lucie Partain asked Drane if bond was eventually granted for either of the teens, one condition would be they would not contact any teachers or students at Etowah High.
Their case will move on to Cherokee County Superior Court, Drane said.
Reynolds, who was present during their first appearance, described the hearing as a “sad” situation involving young teenagers.
“There’s an element as a parent saying, while that’s concerning, I would hate for my child to feel like they’re in such a position but at the same time we look at some of the same instances like Columbine and you have 17-year-olds committing horrendous crimes and murdering folks,” he said. “We can’t let that emotion play into it. We have to look at the facts and the circumstances and the prevention of (lost) lives.”
When asked what the community could do to prevent these crimes, Reynolds asked parents to be nosy.
“Get in there, know what your children do,” he said. “Get on their Facebook. Have conditions with their devices. My children have that condition—mom and dad can go on there anytime, go in their room. You have to be nosy, you never know what your children get into and we have a lot of predators out there.”
Arrest warrants for McCurley and Dupree have been sealed by a judge, according to Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Sgt. Marianne Kelley. They underwent evaluations upon their arrival at the jail and are not being kept in general population, she said.
Kelley said as far as law enforcement could tell, the two suspects were friends.
The Cherokee Sheriff’s Office was alerted by the Cherokee County School of Police Department of potential threats made against the school about 5 p.m. Monday, law enforcement said.
Reynolds said Tuesday afternoon that once his department was aware of the threats, they immediately worked with school police to apprehend the suspects and collect evidence, using search warrants Monday night and Tuesday.
“We were notified through a tip line and upon that our investigators along with the school police conducted some interviews with one of the suspects and our investigation evolved from that point,” he said.
Reynolds called the anonymous tipster a “real hero,” during the Thursday press conference.
“Because that’s what we want to do, we want to have the support of our community and the No. 1 thing that we want to have in our community is trust and I think we have that here in Cherokee County,” he said.
Investigators completed search warrants on the homes of both suspects Monday and Tuesday, Kelley said.
Police interviewed Dupree at his home with family members Monday and discovered a personal journal detailing plans of the threats. Upon reading the diary, investigators decided he would undergo a medical evaluation and there was possibly a second suspect.
“We were able to determine there was potentially a second suspect in the case and that turned out to be Victoria McCurley,” she said in a press conference Wednesday.
During a search of McCurley’s home, “a homemade incendiary device, which was described as a flammable substance and an undetermined powder substance” was uncovered by law enforcement, Kelley said. Reynolds described the device Thursday as capable of harming people, but not “arsenal.”
“Both substances were turned over to the GBI to have them tested and determine the chemical material,” Kelley said.
Firearms turned over to law enforcement by one of the suspects’ family members are not being used as evidence, she said.
Most of the credible evidence police found was located in Dupree’s diary detailing threats against the school, specific staff members and students, Kelley said. All potential victims mentioned in the journal have been notified, she said.
Investigators had not determined a timeline of when the Dupree and McCurley were planning to carry out their plots against the school and their peers, however, the Sheriff’s Office believes the threats were imminent, Kelley said.
“Cherokee Sheriff’s Office wants to make sure the parents and families understand that we take this very seriously,” she said during a press conference Wednesday, becoming physically emotional. “We don’t want anything to happen to the students in our county, in the community. We’ll do everything we can to protect them.”
The agency’s Criminal Investigation Division was continuing its investigation into the threats, Kelley said Thursday. She said the department is still determining whether more people were involved or more charges will be added against McCurley and Dupree.
Reynolds assured the community that there was no known threat at this time to Etowah High or the students. No additional security has been ordered for the school, he said.
“We are very confident that this is not a growing problem,” he said.
Cherokee County School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby issued a statement Wednesday afternoon on behalf of Superintendent Dr. Brian Hightower.
“We recognize these as very serious charges, and that will be reflected in the severe administrative disciplinary actions the school district will take against these students,” she said. “We will not tolerate violence of any kind at our schools.”
Jacoby said the school district deeply appreciated the community member who reported the information to the Woodstock Police Department tip line that ultimately led the two students’ arrests.
“Our School District Police Department and administrative staff assisted with the investigation in a continuation of our longtime partnership with the Sheriff’s Office to maintain a safe and secure environment for our students and employees,” she said.
The district takes all threats to the safety and security of students and employees seriously, Jacoby said.
“Anyone with information about threats is asked to immediately report it to police,” she said.
Etowah High School Principal Robert Horn sent a letter to parents Tuesday, announcing a community member had alerted police to the potential threat.
“Immediate action and investigation began, and, as a result, two students are currently in custody,” he wrote. “At this time there are no other suspects and no active threat against Etowah High School.”
Horn said the safety and security of all students and staff members is of the utmost importance and the school district would continue to partner with the sheriff’s office throughout the investigation.
“I will continue to keep you in the loop in this regard,” he wrote. “Any threat on school safety/security will not be tolerated and as such these students will also face severe disciplinary action, as well as any applicable criminal charges.”