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Teen charged in plot to blow up Freedom High School

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 06:33 PM
TAMPA -

A plot to create a disaster at Freedom High School with "more casualties than were suffered at Columbine" was set to begin at 5 a.m. Tuesday, just hours before the school was set to open for the year.

In a "manifesto" police say they found in his home, Jared Michael Cano, 17, wrote out a "minute-by-minute" plan to kill two school officials and at least 30 students, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said.

The plan was more than the delusional dreaming of a teenager, the chief said at a news conference Wednesday morning. Cano's writings included detailed drawings of the school, and when police searched his family's apartment, they made a chilling discovery -- bomb-making materials, including fuel, fuses, shrapnel and timers, Castor said.

The materials, said Castor, could have been used to make a device powerful enough to kill. She said Cano wrote that he wanted to surpass the fatalities at Columbine High School in Colorado, where 13 students were killed.

Had he been successful, it would have been a "catastrophic event the likes of which the city of Tampa has never seen," Castor said.

Cano appeared to have been acting alone, but police are continuing to investigate and want to develop a timeline to see whether anyone else knew about the plot, Castor said.

Alexander Cano III said he woke up Wednesday morning to see his son on the news.

"I don't know what he did," Alexander Cano said. "I have no idea what's going on with him. But he needs some help. He needs some serious help. We all have our devils. But apparently he has a lot of devils."

Alexander Cano, 52, of Tampa, said he hasn't had contact with his son in five to seven years. He said he went to the Juvenile Assessment Center but he wasn't allowed to see him.

"That's my son," Alexander Cano said. "I love him more than anything in the world. And I'm going to see what I can do to help him. I'm going to do the best for him. I love him."

Cano was arrested after police received a tip Tuesday morning that the teenager was planning on setting off explosive devices at the school. At 6:30 p.m., police went to the family's apartment at 15501 N. Bruce B. Downs Blvd.

Cano's mother, Michelle Cano, a math teacher at Riverview High School, gave permission to search the apartment; police found the manifesto, bomb-making materials and marijuana plants.

Cano was charged with threatening to throw, project, place or discharge a destructive device. He also faces charges of possession of bomb-making materials and drug charges.

The Hillsborough County State Attorney's office will decide within the next three weeks whether to prosecute the 17-year-old as an adult. At a detention hearing Wednesday, the judge ordered Cano to remain at the Juvenile Detention Center until a decision is made.

One thing that helped police find Cano so quickly is that he has been arrested several times in District 2, which encompasses New Tampa.

"We have been very, very familiar with him," Maj. John Newman said.

On Nov. 5, 2007, he was arrested on charges of breaking into a 1999 Nissan and stealing, among other things, CDs by the Beatles, Pearl Jam and The Police, two pocket knives, headphones and an MP3 player.

A little more than a year later, he was charged with possession of a Black Cobra Model J-911 stun gun; he said he got it from a friend.

On Jan. 24, 2010, Cano was arrested again after neighbors said they saw him and another teen cutting through the screen door of a house. When police interviewed him, he denied involvement. He also told them he "had bad grades, Cs and Ds, because he does not pay attention and has been diagnosed with ADD but was not taking his medication," according to the police report.

Three months later, he faced a charge of stealing a gun from a friend's grandfather. The charge was dropped because the man was a convicted felon and was not supposed to have a gun.

On April 20, 2010, he was charged with possession of marijuana.

Newman said all the charges, except for the gun charge that was dropped, were sent to mediation or arbitration.

Cano had been expelled from Freedom High School in March 2010, for an "off-campus incident,'' Principal Chris Farkas said. He declined to identify the incident, and teachers and administrators hadn't had any contact with him since, he said.

School officials used an automated voicemail system to send a message Wednesday morning to parents that a young man had been arrested and that the school might be mentioned in media stories about the arrest.

Farkas said he was relieved the tip that led to Cano's arrest came from the community. He said he wanted to tell the tipster, "Thank you for having the courage to do it.''

Farkas said high schools often get threats, most of them not credible. He said he realized the seriousness of the threat when Cano was arrested and police said they had seized bomb-making materials.

"My first reaction was shock," he said. "There's a little bit of fear that goes along with that."

Still, he said, "I'm not sure his plot was realistic to carry out."

Noting that the school had just reviewed safety procedures on Tuesday, he said because Cano was barred from campus, it would have raised a red flag among administrators, staff members and teachers if he had shown up on the first day of school.

The school will have an increased security presence Tuesday when more than 2,100 students arrive for the first day of school, he said, "just to make sure people feel more safe."

He said Cano was not an athlete, didn't take part in any academic clubs and there was no evidence of bullying or that he didn't get along with other students.

Farkas, Freedom's principal for three years, said he takes such threats personally.

"If there's a threat to my school," he said, "I feel like they're attacking my family."

Cano's parents went through a "very vivid divorce," said Elliot Horning, Cano's great-grandfather.

Horning said he did not see his great-grandson very often, but when he did, he found him to be "deceptive" and "sneaky."

"When you talk to him, you can't look straight in his eyes, he looks away," said Horning. "I don't like that."

Cano's Facebook page lists his interests as "getting paid" and "smoking weed." Under the education category, he wrote that he attends the "University of Marijuana."

His most recent status update, posted at 10:55 a.m. Tuesday, reads, "I jut (sic) did the dumbest thing ever!"


Reporters Ray Reyes and Lauren Mayk contributed to this story.

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