Three heavily armed teenagers were arrested early Sunday in Camden County, New Jersey, in what investigators described as a plot to hijack a car and embark on a killing spree using rifles, handguns, knives, machetes and 2,000 rounds of ammunition.
The arrests were made in Oaklyn, a small blue-collar town southeast of Camden, after a man told the police his car had been surrounded by three youths who appeared, as if from a nightmare, with pistols dangling from their waistbands as he drove along a residential street more than an hour before dawn. They carried rifles, shotguns and other weapons either in their arms or bulging from beneath their clothing, he said.
The driver, identified by The Associated Press Sunday night as Mathew Rich, did not stop. Instead, he drove around the three teenagers and flagged down a police patrol car a few blocks away, the authorities said.
Although the youths' motives were unclear, their arrests evoked grim memories of the April 20, 1999, shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in which two students killed 12 others and a teacher before committing suicide.
The three New Jersey teenagers "planned on not being taken alive," said Police Chief Christopher Ferrari of Oaklyn. Under police questioning, he said, the three had indicated "they had previous problems with students" and that fellow students were among the potential targets of their plot.
At a news conference Sunday night, Vincent Sarubbi, the county prosecutor, identified the eldest of the three youths as Matthew Lovett, 18, a graduate of Collingswood High School outside Oaklyn, and called him the ringleader of a bizarre plot, long in the making.
"They developed a plan several months ago that they were going to kill three people and then go on a random killing spree throughout the town," Sarubbi said. He would not identify the other youths because, he said, they were juveniles, ages 14 and 15.
"Their plan was to kill randomly until they used all 2,000 rounds of ammunition, spent their knives and exhausted all the other weapons they had," Sarubbi said. He said all the weapons found in the possession of the three youths belonged to Lovett's father. The guns, he said, were licensed.
Ferrari said the weapons found on the teenagers included two rifles, a shotgun, two handguns, two swords and several knives.
"We were able to avert a major catastrophe," he said.
Investigators said the three teenagers were arrested before dawn in a tense encounter with the Oaklyn police officer flagged down by Rich, Charles Antrilli.
They said Antrilli encountered the three youths near the site of their aborted carjacking.
Antrilli approached the three in the street, Sarubbi said. Lovett responded by pointing a gun in the officer's direction, Sarubbi said.
Antrilli then pulled his own gun, and ordered all three teenagers to drop their weapons, which they did, Sarubbi said.
The Associated Press quoted Rich as saying that the carjacking attempt had occurred as he was leaving his wife's home to go to work.
"These guys were ready for war," Rich was quoted as saying.
Sarubbi said the three teenagers had decided to carry out their plot Sunday because Lovett's parents were away.