LAS VEGAS – A teenager arrested last week with an unloaded assault rifle at a Las Vegas high school has been linked by counterterrorism investigators to another local teen who federal authorities said stockpiled guns and explosives and spoke about staging a mass-casualty attack.
Police already were looking for 18-year-old Jake Benton Howell when he arrived at his former school Dec. 21 with 40 rounds of ammunition and a 7.62 mm SKS rifle in the back seat of his car, according to a police report released Thursday.
Authorities had been checking reports that associates and friends of Steven Matthew Fernandes planned an action against the school, Northwest Career and Technical Academy, as revenge for Fernandes being held in federal custody, according to the police report.
Howell’s name was on a list that police and school officials compiled of current and former students with whom Fernandes associated at the 1,900-student campus.
Howell, now a student at Utah Valley University, was unarmed when he was confronted by a school police lieutenant. Police said he made no threats and caused no disturbance before his arrest. He told authorities he drove 400 miles from Orem, Utah, to visit favorite former teachers.
Everything worked right, Clark County School District police Capt. Ken Young said Thursday. We were looking into the rumors. Things came together, and we were able to find a weapon at the school without an incident.
Howell later acknowledged his friendship with Fernandes, whom he identified as the founder of a militia group called the 327th Recon Unit of Nevada. But he said he didn’t know of any plot against the school.
Investigators also found a compressed-air pellet gun, camouflage backpacks and military-style uniforms, food, water and survival gear in Howell’s car. He told investigators he collected the items in anticipation of the collapse of society.
Howell was arrested on five charges of possession of a dangerous weapon on school grounds after police seized the gun and ammunition, a 16-inch bayonet and three large survival-style knives from the car. He was held at the Clark County Jail in Las Vegas pending a court appearance.
Possession of a dangerous weapon on school grounds is a gross misdemeanor in Nevada that carries a possible penalty of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.