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Columbine-style assault thwarted at Kansas high school

HOYT, Kan. - Officials in Jackson County, Kansas, arrested three suspects after receiving a tip that the trio was allegedly planning a Columbine-style attack on Royal Valley High School.

Materials confiscated by authorities at homes of the suspects included white supremacist materials, bomb-making materials, a modified assault weapon, black trench coats, knives and other items, including plans of the school, marked with locations for placement of explosives.

Although Jackson County officials now say they don't believe the planned attack was racially motivated, members of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation say they aren't so sure and fear their children may have been the intended targets.

The small communities of Mayetta and Hoyt are reeling following the arrests. Arrested Feb. 5 and charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated arson were Richard B. Bradley Jr., 18, Hoyt, and James R. Lopez and Jason L. Moss, 17, both from Mayetta.

Jackson County District Attorney Doug Fisher said Lopez also was charged with intimidation of a witness.

Lopez has been reported as possibly being of Native American descent, but that was not confirmed. If he is Native American, then the questions about racial motivation for the plot will have to be re-evaluated, observers said.

Although the tribal officials said they are relieved county officials were able to stop the suspects before they could carry out an attack, they are concerned they received no contact from Jackson County, even though the suspects lived within reservation boundaries. Possible racial motives caused unrest on the Kansas reservation.

"Why weren't we notified until Monday after it came out in the news," asked Potawatomi Nation Chairman Badger Wahwasuck. "The news release from Jackson County said it wasn't racially motivated, but how do you have white supremacists and not be racially motivated? There is a real big concern here."

Royal Valley High School, some 10 miles north of Topeka, has 900 students, 20 percent of them Native Americans who are primarily from the nearby Prairie Band Potawatomi Reservation. Tribal members, fearing their children were the targets, met Feb. 5 following arrests. They also were upset that the tribe was not contacted during the investigation.

Many parents kept their children home from school, fearing that not all of those involved in the alleged plot have been caught.

At the Monday meeting, many alternative plans for schooling - including the possibility of building tribal schools - were brought up, Wahwasuck said. "That has come up already. People are talking. If it's going to be like this, maybe we need to have our own school out here for the kids."

During the session, Royal Valley Superintendent Marceta Reilly attempted to let tribal members know everything she did, but Wahwasuck said county officials had also kept Reilly in the dark.

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Concern about whether bombs had already been planted at the school spurred tribal officials into offering to pay to have bomb-sniffing dogs search the school for possible explosives. Following the tribe's demands, the Kansas Highway Patrol brought in two of the bomb-sniffing canines, but no explosive devices were found.

Reilly and the school district issued a new dress code for the school, to take effect immediately. No long trench coats or clothing which displays any racially, motivated writing or symbols would be allowed to be worn by students in school.

Wahwasuck said although the county and school are working hard to calm the fears of local residents, he is especially concerned about the tribe not being notified by county officials since the suspects lived within reservation boundaries.

The "checkerboard" reservation has both tribal and non-tribal members living within its boundaries. Wahwasuck believes investigators should have contacted tribal officials and that not doing so endangered tribal members in the community.

"The whole thing that is so scary is that these people they arrested lived on the reservation. The bad part is since we have a checkerboard reservation ... they are right in the heart of the reservation. We feel Jackson County should have contacted us just because they live on the reservation. They didn't notify anybody.

"Why is Jackson County handling this if there is an AK47 and pipe bombs involved? Why isn't the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) involved? These are federal offenses on a federal reservation. One of these kids is already out on bond!"

In a Feb. 6 press release, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation expressed shock and dismay about the alleged plot. It stated that although they were relieved that Jackson County officials effected the arrests, the tribe was concerned about the lack of a cross-deputization agreement between the tribe and the county.

In the release, the tribe also questioned whether all of those involved in the planned attack had been arrested and if all appropriate measures were taken by law enforcement and the school system to protect their children.

The statement ended with, 'The tribal council hopes that the county will set aside its narrow political agendas and join with the tribe in providing for the safety of all reservation residents.'

Wahwasuck said tribal police are stepping up patrols in the area and security precautions are being taken all over the reservation, including the Prairie Band Harrah's Casino, housing areas, the day care center and tribal headquarters.

A higher presence by tribal police will be seen on the highway when students are going to and from school, he said, adding that tribal officials planned to contact federal law enforcement agencies to find out why they aren't involved in the investigation.

A Jackson County Attorney's office spokesperson said personnel wouldn't be available for interviews regarding the case for the time being and no new information was available for release.