Sheriff: Bomb threat suspects to be tried as adults

Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr., announced on Thursday that students or suspects responsible for bomb and shooting threats to local schools will be tried as adults and face up to 15 years in jail.

“Today, I met with representatives from the Gainesville Police Department, University of Florida Police Department, Santa Fe College Police Department, High Springs Police Department, Alachua Police Department, School Board of Alachua County and the State Attorney’s Office in what will be the first of many collaborative efforts to address the terrorism, shootings and other violent crimes which have recently greatly affected our county and disrupted the education of our students,” he said in a Facebook statement. “We cannot and will not allow these criminals to hold our community hostage.” 

The post includes a photo of ACSO deputies, Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon, police department chiefs and other community leaders.

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So far authorities have only arrested one person in connection with the spate of bomb threats at local schools, which include four at Buchholz High School, four at Newberry High School, two at Gainesville High School, one at Eastside High School, one at Oak View Middle School and one at Newberry Elementary School. Investigators have only officially tied the teenage suspect to two of the Buchholz bomb threats, but Watson said all perpetrators will face severe consequences.

“Preston Powers, 17, who is the defendant in the Buchholz High School bomb threats, will be adjudicated as an adult by the State Attorney’s Office, transported to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Department of the Jail and prosecuted as an adult,” Watson said in the post. “Charges as serious as this warrant prosecution as an adult. Mr. Powers is facing up to 15 years in prison.”

The statement came shortly after news broke that authorities detained multiple students at Newberry High School in connection with the six bomb threats—plus at least two sniper threats—Newberry schools have endured in the last week. The ACSO has not yet confirmed any arrests, but Watson said investigative efforts “have been fruitful” in the Newberry probe. 

“This is not a game,” Watson said. “These are felonies and they will be handled as such. Additionally, the cost of restitution will be sought for the amount of time, energy, money and assets that have been expended in investigating these incidents. I am immensely grateful to my team of stellar employees at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office whose tireless efforts have contributed to the success of the mission of bringing this to a successful resolution.”

Watson said more arrests are likely to come soon. 

“Several search warrants have been executed and I expect arrests in these cases will be made very shortly,” he said. “Students and parents should understand that choices to engage in criminal activity as exemplified in these recent cases will affect and have the potential to ruin your life. For those who decide to pursue criminal and terrorist activity, I will devote the time, resources and energy needed to successfully solve and prosecute these types of crimes to the fullest extent of the law. To the public and leaders involved in our collaborative effort to stop the violence, I thank you for your commitment in joining me to make and keep our community safe.”

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