Two Etowah High School students who face several felony charges after making threats and planning an attack at the school in October pleaded not guilty to the crimes on Wednesday, according to court officials.
District Attorney Shannon Wallace said Victoria Gabrielle McCurley, 17, of Woodstock and Alfred Dupree, 17, of Acworth waived their rights of a formal arraignment and entered a not guilty plea in a holding cell at the Frank C. Mills III Justice Center early Wednesday morning.
McCurley and Dupree were both indicted in December on six counts each of conspiracy to commit murder, one count of conspiracy to commit arson and one count of unlawful possession of a destructive device, according to court documents.
McCurley and Dupree face charges as a team for “collecting and preparing flammable and explosive materials…writing a ‘kill list’… (and) creating a map of a portion of Etowah High School,” the original indictment states.
The “kill list” contained six names, five students and one teacher, according to court documents. The teens possessed “a container of flammable and combustible material, with the intent that it would be used to kill, injure and intimidate students and staff at Etowah High School and to destroy Etowah High School.”
The duo was arrested and 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 in October after law enforcement discovered their plans.
Had they not been taken into custody, authorities said they believe the students would have carried out their threats.
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.
Cherokee Sheriff Frank Reynolds said in a press conference in October 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.
The Columbine High School massacre took place in Colorado in 1999 when two students brought guns and bombs to school, where they murdered 12 students and one teacher. The attackers also injured 21 others in the incident.
“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 previously 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 Oct. 26 in front of Magistrate Court Judge James Drane at the Cherokee County jail. 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.
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.”
Public social media profiles believed to belong to McCurley and Dupree came under scrutiny after the Tribune examined them shortly following their arrests in October 2017.
The Instagram profile attributed to McCurley is a compilation of posts about suicide, depression, Satan, school and Columbine, reoccurring throughout the account dating back as early as 2015.
The account reveals a range of disturbing material posted all the way up to six days before her arrest. One of the posts featured was an altered picture of the Disney movie “High School Musical” published in February 2016. The text was changed to read “High School Massacre” and depicts Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold firing bullets into the movie’s cast.
While Dupree’s own Facebook and Instagram profiles center more on heavy metal music and The Beatles, hints of struggles in the teen’s life are evident throughout his Instagram account.
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Sgt. Marianne 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 on Oct. 23, 2017 law enforcement said.
Reynolds previously said 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.
“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.
Police interviewed Dupree at his home with family members Oct. 23, 2017 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,” Kelley said in a press conference on Oct. 25, 2017.
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 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.