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Students who reported troubling Snapchat messages thwarted a potential mass shooting at a Florida campus, officials say

By Mallika Kallingal and Amy Simonson, CNN

Police in Florida arrested a student attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for allegedly “plotting to shoot up the campus” on Thursday, which was the final day before winter break, officials said.

John Hagins, 19, threatened an attack similar to the 1999 mass shooting at the Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, that left 13 dead, according to Chief Jakari Young of the Daytona Beach Police Department. Hagins had a backpack that contained a collapsible rifle, a magazine and several boxes of ammunition when he was taken into custody, he said.

Police said they got involved after two students reported worrying messages they saw on a group chat to the university’s campus security team.

“It was a Snapchat group message that they were involved in, and they were very concerned about what was being relayed in this Snapchat group chat,” Young said at a news conference Thursday.

Hagins is now in custody and has confessed to making the statements, Young said.

Hagins made his first court appearance Friday and a judged ruled he be held without bond. The judge granted a request for a public defender to be appointed to Hagins and said a hearing would be held by Wednesday regarding his incarceration.

CNN reached out to Hagin’s appointed public defender but did not receive a response.

A friend of Hagins told police that Hagins last week “began talking excessively about purchasing a gun” that would fold and fit in his backpack so he could take it to “the school and ‘shoot it up,'” according to a charging affidavit.

The friend told police that Hagins sold his truck and used the money to purchase a gun, the arrest affidavit stated.

The friend said they were “more concerned” at that point because Hagins had previously expressed “ambitions about fixing up” the truck, according to the charging document.

Hagins had approximately 800 rounds of ammunition, according to the affidavit.

The friend, according to the affidavit, told police that Hagins showed them the gun and said, “I finished my back-to-school shopping.”

According to the affidavit, Hagins said “he would purchase a silencer so he would be able to shoot inside the school library.”

Hagins is charged with one count each of terrorism, written threat to kill or injure and attempted first-degree murder, according to the affidavit.

After emergency responders were informed by campus security at 4:10 a.m., police rushed to where the suspect lived and detained him as he was coming out of his apartment, Young said. He had planned to go to a shooting range for practice and then to the campus, according to the police.

“Today is the last day, today is the final exams. So this was all a part of the plan because today the campus will be packed because everybody has to be there to take their final exams,” Young said.

He added that it was fortunate that the two students reported their concerns. “By the Grace of God those two students came forward and thwarted that plan,” he added.

“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,” Young said. “He said once he was done at that firing range, he was going to campus to enact a Columbine.”

“I’m extremely relieved that we are not the next national media story as it relates to a mass shooting on a campus because the intent was there,” Young added.

The incident is still under investigation but authorities said the suspect told the police he was acting alone.

“Detectives are still trying to piece together the exact motive, but we have learned that Hagins was in danger of failing classes at ERAU and was also cited for a traffic infraction while on campus yesterday,” the police said in the statement.

In a letter to students, ERAU President Barry Butler said that although it was a difficult day, the security systems that are in place worked.

“Law enforcement officers, Campus Safety and our students did an exceptional job today and helped keep our community safe, and we are in their debt,” Butler wrote. He added that there is no reason to believe there is any additional threat to the campus community.

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CNN’s Laura James contributed to this report

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