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Slaying plot alleged at high school

Marshfield teen accused of plan to kill eight

MARSHFIELD -- A Marshfield High School junior is under arrest on charges that he plotted a murderous attack against eight individually named students and teachers, mapped the school's escape doors that he planned to padlock, and exploded a handmade bomb in a practice session.

Police said the 16-year-old student was possibly timing an attack to coincide with the April 20 anniversary of the school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.

When detectives searched his house, they found detailed, hand-drawn plans of the school, a shopping list that included guns and ammunition, and information from websites, including The Anarchist's Cookbook, that would allow him to "maximize casualties," police said.

The 16-year-old's father, confirming statements of several students interviewed at the school, identified the suspect as Tobin Kerns.

"There were specifically identified students; there were specifically identified teachers who were going to be murdered," Marshfield Police Chief William Sullivan said at a press conference yesterday afternoon.

Investigators said they found a list of targeted teachers and students and that the plot also involved attacking the emergency personnel who would respond. Authorities did not say where the list was found.

Kerns was arrested Sept. 17. He has been charged in Juvenile Court with eight counts of threatening to commit a crime, two counts of promoting anarchy, and one count of attempt to commit a murder. After he was found a danger to the community at a Sept. 30 hearing, he was held without bail for 90 days. Under state law, a 16-year-old must initially be charged as a juvenile before authorities can re-arraign a suspect as a youthful offender.

In an interview at his Marshfield home yesterday afternoon, Ben Kerns proclaimed his son's innocence, saying that Tobin was framed by a former friend at high school after a dispute over a girlfriend. Kerns also said that his son was treated for post-traumatic stress for a month this summer at McLean SouthEast in Brockton for problems stemming from psychological abuse suffered when he was younger.

Kerns said that before the hospitalization, his son had associated with three male friends from school and that the group may have discussed plans for a violent act, but he didn't think the youths would have carried out the plan. And he said one of the other three youths was the ringleader, not his son.

After the press conference, Sullivan said in an interview that the public "will know more in the next four days," but he would not elaborate or say if more charges would be filed.

Some parents and students wondered why officials waited more than three weeks after Tobin Kerns was arrested to announce the charges and describe the plot.

"As a parent of a child [at the high school], I'm furious," said Jim Hoey of Marshfield. "We have a right to know right away and to discuss these things with our children."

He said unnecessary confusion and fear in the community could have been avoided if the school and police had informed the public after the arrest more than three weeks ago, rather than forcing some to hear through the media.

School Superintendent Thomas Kelley said school officials did not want to jeopardize the ongoing police investigation. "Had we thought there was a safety issue at this school, we would have taken action," he said. "It was really a police matter, and it was clear to us that a threat was eliminated by the arrest within a short window of time."

Detectives searched a wooded area in the Humarock part of town Sept. 17 and found evidence of a "successfully exploded device," Marshfield police Lieutenant Phillip Tavares said at the press conference. Police had been told that Kerns had detonated a homemade napalm bomb.

The suspect, who was under surveillance that day, was arrested that night, his home searched, and his computer's hard drive seized. Police found hand-drawn plans of the high school and information downloaded from websites, including those of weapons dealers and sites with information about bombs, Tavares said.

Sullivan said police believe the suspect was the "primary mover." Still, he said, it was "quite possible" that the suspect enlisted other students in the alleged plot.

"However, if they were, they were on the periphery," Sullivan said. "And it's our understanding that there were no [other] people that had gone beyond the discussional stages."

Yesterday, Ben Kerns, 48, said his son, who is being held at a detention center in Taunton, has been wrongly blamed for the alleged high school plot. He said he first learned of the alleged plot at his son's arraignment, when he read the police report.

Kerns identified the teenager who he said was the mastermind, but the Globe is withholding that identity because the youth has not been charged. That youth's father declined to comment last night.

Kerns, who said neither he nor his son have been questioned by police, said the search of their home on Sept. 17 did not turn up explosives or a written hit list.

Kerns said the alleged plot was hatched by the three teenagers with whom his son used to associate, who hung around the Humarock bridge and called themselves NBK, for "Natural Born Killers," a movie about a couple who engaged in violent killings.

He said his son had not associated with the group since he checked out of McLean in July. Kerns said his son may have discussed the alleged plot with those three youths earlier this year.

"I think it was a bunch of hot air," he said. "There was no real threat. Nobody had guns. Nobody had access to guns."

Kerns described his son as an avid reader who loves animals. The boy volunteered at an animal shelter last year, he said, and recently took a part-time job at the Mug N Muffin restaurant in Marshfield.

Mary Sylva, spokeswoman for the state Department of Youth Services, said the suspect, whom she would not identify, had been detained on bail briefly at a DYS facility in 2003 on a property charge.

Ben Kerns said his son had been charged with three crimes: a break-in at a summer house in Marshfield, vandalism at an elementary school in town, and a break-in at a liquor store. He said his son has had no problems in the past two years.

"This kid is really trying to turn his life around," he said.

He said his son recently had a squabble with one of the youths in the group he had associated with earlier in the year. That youth, who lived with the Kerns family in May, spread a rumor that he had slept with Tobin's girlfriend, said Kerns.

He said the dispute may have prompted the other youth to tell the police about the alleged plot and say Toby was the ringleader.

Kerns said the computer that police seized had been used by Tobin; his 18-year-old brother, Andy; and the youth with whom Toby had the squabble, Kerns said. The computer had not been used since June, he said.

Robert Keuther, principal of Marshfield High School, said parents of the school's nearly 1,300 students received a recorded phone message yesterday telling them about the alleged plot. The message did not name Kerns and did not explain why the student was not named.

Senior Matt Etro, 18, said Tobin Kerns was a smart person who had gotten in trouble for vandalizing a local school.

Kerns -- whose brother, Andy, has Down syndrome -- had a tight-knit group of about four or five friends who liked to talk about guns, Etro said, debating the merits of rifles versus pistols.

"Toby talked a lot, but I don't think he'd actually do it," Etro said. "He's wicked good to his brother. He's pretty polite."

Jenn Abelson, John Ellement, Jonathan Saltzman, and Suzanne Smalley of the Globe staff contributed to this report, along with Globe correspondent Jack Encarcanao. Kathleen Burge can be reached at

TOBIN KERNS Arrested Sept. 17
Arrested Sept. 17
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