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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 07:05 GMT
US teenagers in bomb plot trial
Eric McKeehan, 17, in court
The shooting "could have been worse than Columbine"
Three teenagers in the American state of Massachusetts have appeared in court charged with plotting to kill their high school classmates and teachers.

They were arrested at their homes in New Bedford after a school caretaker discovered their alleged plan to use explosives and guns to murder students before shooting each other.

police robot
Police used a robot and sniffer dogs to search the school
The three boys - two teenage brothers and another aged 15 - are students at New Bedford High School. They are being held without bail, police said.

All three pleaded innocent to the charges. They were identified as Eric McKeehan, 17, Michael McKeehan, 15, and Steven Jones, 15.

They allegedly modelled themselves on the two teenagers who killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide at the Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

Bomb-making instructions

According to two other students questioned by police, after the shooting spree the three planned to climb onto the school roof and shoot each other "so it was a homicide, not suicide".

They were arrested on Saturday, after searches at their homes uncovered bomb-making instructions, knives, shotgun shells and pictures of the suspects holding what appeared to be handguns.

Mother comforts daughter after Columbine shooting
The Columbine school massacre shocked the nation
In one boy's bedroom police also found satanic masks, a meat cleaver, an axe and a photograph of Adolf Hitler.

The police were first alerted to the alleged plot in mid-October but lacked crucial evidence to make any arrests.

Town police chief Arthur Kelly told the Boston Herald that the boys had alleged "said specifically it will be bigger than Columbine".

On Sunday, 40 police officers and five bomb-sniffing dogs searched the high school, which has 3,300 students, and found no new evidence of the alleged plot.

A letter found on the school floor by a caretaker warned of "an event" involving explosives that would take place at the school on "a Monday", according to the Boston Herald newspaper.

Fearful students

"We didn't think we were going to find anything," said police lieutenant Richard Spirlet.

"But we want to put the public at ease," Lt Spirlet said.

However only about half of the students attended school on Monday, and many of those who did were accompanied by their parents.

Statistics released by the US Education and Justice Departments earlier this month showed violent crimes in US schools had fallen slightly.

Between 1992 and 1999, cases of violence in schools were down from 48 crimes per 1,000 students to 33 per 1,000 and the number of students bringing weapons to school had dropped by 42%.

See also:

01 Nov 01 | Education
Crime rates fall in US schools
18 Jul 01 | Education
School shootings warning signs
26 May 00 | Americas
When children kill
21 May 99 | Americas
New gun law follows school shooting
21 Apr 00 | Americas
Columbine marks tragedy
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