How Two Students in Florida Stopped a Mass Shooting

Phone displaying a snapchat logo

A near miss: Two students’ quick reaction to a disturbing Snapchat message prevented a deadly catastrophe.

Two university students in Florida thwarted a potentially catastrophic mass shooting by relaying disturbing Snapchat messages to campus security. On the basis of their report, police arrested a student attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on Thursday.

John Hagins, 19, was carrying a rifle and several boxes of ammunition when he was taken into custody, having apparently planned to “shoot up the campus” while students were taking their final exams before winter break. Officers apprehended him as he was leaving his apartment to go to a shooting range to “practice” before heading to the school.

The potential shooter’s plans

Police say he threatened to emulate the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School that killed 13 people.

“He may want to claim that it was all a joke and he wasn’t serious about it. But we don’t find anything funny about discussing a mass shooting on campus,” said Chief Jakari Young of Daytona Beach Police Department. “He said once he was done at that firing range, he was going to campus to enact a Columbine.”

“We could have had a tragedy unfold today,” Young continued. “Instead, these students reported it to the school and that allowed us to get to work right away and bring Hagins into custody before he could carry out his plans. We thank them all for seeing something and saying something.”

Detectives still aren’t clear on what may have motivated Hagins to such violence, but NBC Miami reports that he was on course to fail multiple classes, and had just been cited for a traffic infraction on campus. He will be charged with attempted first-degree homicide, written threats to kill or injure, and terrorism.

Turning in a beloved child

Though we hear too few of such stories, it’s important to remember that prompt action can be incredibly effective in preventing mass casualties. As The Washington Post reports, parents of potential school shooters often ignore glaring red flags, but occasionally, their swift actions can avert disaster.

When Catherine O’Connor discovered a detailed plan to carry out a massacre in her grandson’s notebook — including the desired route of his killing spree, how he would trap his victims, and a resolution to end his own life, she was immediately on her guard. When she later searched his room and found a semiautomatic rifle in a guitar case, she reported him to the police. On February 28, 2019, Joshua O’Connor was convicted and sentenced to 22.5 years for planning a mass shooting at ACES Alternative High School.

It’s impossible to imagine how it must feel to make a choice between your beloved child’s freedom and the safety of others, but there’s little doubt that Catherine saved many lives when she turned Joshua in. Here’s hoping that more parents, guardians, friends and teachers become alert to the warning signs — and are prepared to act when they do.