Jake Howell, the Las Vegas teenager arrested last week with an unloaded semiautomatic rifle inside his car at the Northwest Career and Technical Academy, has attracted the interest of federal anti-terrorism agents.
Before he was arrested, FBI agents assigned to the Southern Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force interviewed Howell, an 18-year-old June graduate of the Clark County public school, about his ties to another jailed teen accused of making chilling comments that, in part, promoted school violence.
That teen, 18-year-old Steven Matthew Fernandes, is in federal custody facing firearms and explosives charges investigated by the FBI-led terrorism task force.
Authorities think Howell, in custody at the Clark County Detention Center on a local firearms charge, and Fernandes were "best friends" and graduated together from the Northwest Career and Technical Academy.
Concerns were raised last week that friends of Fernandes might try to do harm at the school in retaliation for the charges brought against Fernandes, who authorities say has claimed to be the commanding officer of the 327th Nevada Militia, a small urban survivalist unit.
Capt. Ken Young of the Clark County School District police declined on Wednesday to talk about the FBI's interest in Howell but confirmed the technical academy in northwest Las Vegas was one of the schools hit last week with rumors of threats.
According to Howell's arrest report released Wednesday by Las Vegas police, the technical academy's principal identified Howell as an associate of Fernandes.
Howell admitted in his interview with the FBI that he and Fernandes started the militia group, but he denied being part of a plot against the school.
The rumors of school threats here followed the deaths of 20 children and six adults in the Newtown, Conn., mass shooting on Dec. 14.
Agents found Howell's unloaded rifle, described as a Russian SKS assault weapon, and rounds of ammunition inside his car after he consented to a search.
Police then took him into custody on a charge of suspicion of possessing a dangerous weapon on school property.
A current student suspected of associating with Fernandes was searched and questioned last week but not arrested. Authorities found no weapons on him, and he denied regularly hanging out with Fernandes.
Howell, who indicated he now lives in Utah, told police he traded a 1995 Oldsmobile Cutlass for the rifle and brought it to Las Vegas to show friends.
Howell said he loaded his car with survival gear to be prepared for the "society collapse" predicted by the Dec. 21 end of the Mayan calendar, the arrest report said.
Besides the rifle and ammunition, Howell's 2005 Hyundai Elantra contained military-style uniforms, camouflage backpacks, a survival knife, shovels, a small stove, food items, water, tools, clothes and personal items, the report said.
FBI agents are reviewing evidence seized in September from Fernandes in an effort to determine whether to charge Howell in the federal firearms case.
Fernandes was arrested Sept. 13 with a loaded shotgun in his Saturn coupe as he was going to work at a local RadioShack.
Agents later found explosives and bomb-making materials and devices in his bedroom, with a copy of "The Anarchist Cookbook," federal prosecutors have alleged.
The book explains how to manufacture explosives.
The day before Howell's arrest last week, a federal magistrate refused to order a mental examination for Fernandes.
Prosecutors sought the evaluation to determine whether Fernandes was insane at the time he spoke of school violence and whether he is competent to stand trial.
"There's just something not right with Mr. Fernandes," Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Walsh said in court.
FBI Agent Robert French, a bomb expert with the terrorism task force, testified that the teen's "rhetoric became more alarming" as time passed in the nine-month firearms investigation.
Fernandes bragged to a confidential informant about wanting to "go to a nursery school and use kids for target practice" and kill more people than the shooter who fatally wounded 12 moviegoers in July in Aurora, Colo., French testified.
French, the same agent who led the interview of Howell at the technical academy, also said Fernandes described the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings as the "greatest events" ever.
His defense attorney, Crystal Eller, argued the statements were merely "sarcastic ranting" and "puffery" made in the presence of someone he felt comfortable being around.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen said she found the statements disturbing, but prosecutors had not provided her with a legal basis to order a psychological examination.
Leen said Fernandes, who has pleaded not guilty to the firearms and explosives charges, understands the legal proceedings against him and has been able to assist his lawyer.
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135.