DAYTONA BEACH — An Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University student who had posted threats suggesting he was going to commit a mass shooting on campus was arrested Thursday as he left his apartment with a backpack that contained a collapsible semi-automatic rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, Daytona Beach police said.
The suspect, John Hagins, 19, was taken into custody shortly after 9:30 a.m. at the Andros Isle Apartments at 100 Acklins Circle in Daytona Beach, Police Chief Jakari Young said.
Hagins was charged with written threats to injure or kill, terrorism, and attempted first-degree homicide, all felonies. He was booked into the Volusia County Branch Jail without bail.
Hagins had posted messages on social media that suggested he was going to carry out the mass shooting on the last day of classes at the university on Thursday, Young said.
“The plan was he was going to leave from his apartment and he was headed over to Volusia Top Gun (a shooting range) for practice and then he was headed to Embry-Riddle,” Young said.
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Young said the campus was packed on Thursday.
“Today is the last day before winter break … today is 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 exam,” Young said. "So this was all in his plan."
Campus officials called police at 4:10 a.m. after a couple students who were part of a Snapchat group that included Hagins warned the officials of threats Hagins made on the social media platform, Young said.
The threats to shoot up the school alarmed the students. One post stated, “I finished my school shopping” referring to the 9-mm caliber KelTec collapsible rifle that Hagins had in a backpack with almost 300 rounds of ammunition when he was stopped after coming out of his apartment, Young said.
“By the grace of God those two students came forward and prevented Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University from being the next national media story with regards to a mass shooting on that campus,” Young said.
Young said that the students who warned authorities about the threat showed the importance of “if you see something, you say something,” which gave Daytona Beach police the opportunity to intervene.
ERAU Student Government Association’s president Johan Restrepo also said students are grateful that the adage “see something, say something,” was put into practice.
“I think the students, once they heard the whole story, they are thankful that it was reported,” Restrepo said. “With the potential for a shooting, the shock is still there. They’re (students are) definitely shocked at how close we could have been to becoming a national headline.”
Once police were notified, investigators began looking for Hagins. When they learned that he lived at the Andros Isle Apartments, police surrounded his apartment, Young said.
Young said that as police waited for a warrant to enter Hagins’ apartment, he came outside.
“We were able to grab him and detain him and once we detained him, we immediately noticed that he had this backpack and you can see there’s a magazine that he had in this backpack,” Young said. “Contained inside the backpack was a collapsible rifle.”
Daytona Beach Police Sgt. Tim Ehrenhaufer said Hagins was startled and shocked to find that police surrounded his home. He asked how long police had been waiting outside, Ehrenkaufer said.
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Young said several boxes of 9mm ammunition were in the backpack. Five loaded magazines, each holding 17 rounds, and an extended magazine loaded with 32 rounds, were also found in the bag. A rifle scope was also with the weapon, the chief said.
“He was loaded for bear,” Young said.
Hagins confessed to making the threats, but told investigators that it was all a joke, Young said. In a press release, police said Hagins had sold his car to purchase the gun and ammunition.
“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 a campus,” Young said. “If he was looking for attention, he’s got it. I don’t think he wanted the kind of attention that he has, but he’s got it.”
Young said when he got the call about the plot early Thursday, he immediately thought of the mass shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan on Nov. 30. The chief said he was surprised to learn Hagins was thinking of another mass shooting that occurred in Colorado in 1999: Columbine.
“In actuality, he referenced Columbine,” Young said. “He said once he was done at that firing range he was going to campus to enact a Columbine (shooting).”
Hagins is an undergraduate student at Embry-Riddle majoring in Aeronautical Science, said university spokeswoman Ginger Pinholster.
Pinholster declined to comment on how Hagins was doing in school or whether he had disciplinary issues at the university, citing privacy laws.
“I just want to say that we are safe and secure here,” Pinholster said. “There is no reason to believe there are any further threats whatsoever.”
In a statement Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University made public on Thursday, university officials said they were working closely with the Daytona Beach Police Department.
The university immediately notified the entire community of the police activity and a lockdown was not necessary, according to the statement.
“The student was trespassed and suspended and cannot return to our campus,” the university statement said.
Campus officials said they were not allowing reporters on campus without an escort, and a News-Journal request to visit the campus with an escort was also denied.
Police are still trying to figure out what motive Hagins had for his planned shooting but Young said Hagins was on academic probation and his grade point average had fallen below a 2.0 average.
“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 (Wednesday),” a news release from Daytona Beach police stated.
Embry-Riddle President P. Barry Butler released a statement to campus faculty and students in which he praised students and police.
“Today was a difficult day, but for a moment, let’s focus on what went right,” Butler wrote.
“I want to personally commend Embry-Riddle’s Campus Safety Team for immediately alerting the Daytona Beach Police Department (DBPD) of an anonymous tip received by students, which ultimately led to today’s arrest,” Butler continued. “I also want to commend the students who submitted that tip. Their actions were an outstanding example of our safety culture in action.
“We are also grateful to DBPD officers for their quick action. Their close working relationship with Campus Safety helped eliminate a threat, and at no time did we feel the campus was in danger once the DBPD was involved.
“It was an admittedly frightening event, but our security systems worked and we are all safe.
“The rule is simple: If you see something, say something.”
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Armed ERAU student arrested for school shooting plot, police said