By Sean Bowes

The attorney for expelled former Freedom High student, Jared Michael Cano, 17 (who was described as a “quiet loner” by his peers), has pleaded “not guilty” for his alleged plans to kill Freedom students and staff members on the first day of school. If convicted, the teenager could face up to 35 years in prison. The State Attorney’s Office is charging Cano, 17, as an adult.

On September 16, Cano’s lawyer submitted the written “not guilty” plea. The teenager was not present in court.

Until recently, Cano was being held at a juvenile assessment center in Hillsborough County, but he is now being held without bail in Orient Rd. Jail. Reports of Cano’s plan had shaken some students and parents at Freedom, but after a hectic first day, principal John Farkas says the school is now long since back on track.

News reporters, police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs surveying the campus at Freedom isn’t the start of a typical day at the school, especially not the first day back from summer vacation, but that is exactly what students at Freedom will remember from their first day back for the 2011-12 school year, just days after the Tampa Police Department (TPD) thwarted Cano’s planned attack on the school.

On the night of August 22, hours before school buses full of students would pull onto campus for the first time this school year, TPD K-9 Squads were checking every locker and classroom for anything out of the ordinary. But, Farkas says the school did open safely and the day went smoothly, with an increased law enforcement presence.

Hillsborough County Public Schools spokesperson Linda Cobb said Freedom’s attendance was down 166 students compared to last year’s first day of school; however, she could not directly attribute the absences to the bomb scare. The fifth day enrollment was down 50 students from last year at Freedom, which has 2,033 students.

“There is no way of knowing why the attendance was down,” said Cobb. “But a lot of the (Hillsborough County) schools had a low enrollment for the first day this year.”

Cano already had a considerable arrest record and a manifesto on how he would kill as many as 30 Freedom students and two assistant principals. Cano, who lived with his mother, Michelle Cano, at their Cypress Run at Tampa Palms apartment, has been charged with possessing bomb-making materials, cultivating marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, possessing marijuana and threatening to throw, project, place or discharge a destructive device.

Cano, 17, was arrested August 16 after an anonymous tipster called the TPD call center and let them know about his plans, which, according to TPD Chief Jane Castor, included a minute-by-minute plan to kill Freedom High students and staff. Cano’s goal was to surpass the number of fatalities at the massacre at Columbine High in Colorado in 1999, which killed 12 students and one teacher, Castor said.

Police found fuel sources, shrapnel, plastic tubing, timing and fuse devices at the Cypress Run apartment where Cano lived.

Reports speculated that Cano’s plans could have stemmed from resentment towards the administrators who expelled him last year for inappropriate behavior in an off-school-grounds incident. Cano has previously been arrested for breaking into a friend’s home and stealing a handgun, walking around his apartment complex with a stun gun and stealing CDs out of cars.

“We’ve been very familiar with him,” said TPD Maj. John Newman.

On Cano’s Facebook page, which until recently was accessible to the public, were pictures of him posing with a machete, drinking bottles of Olde English 800 malt liquor and posting things like he attended class at the “University of Marijuana,” where he’s studying “how to grow weed.” His most recent post stated, “I jut (sic) did the dumbest thing ever!,” just hours before he was arrested.

Since being expelled in 2010, Cano has been home-schooled; his mother is a math teacher at Riverview High. Police say she claims she knew nothing of the bomb building materials that were in her son’s bedroom. Cano’s father, Alexander, who has had little contact with him since divorcing his mother, also has an arrest record, including a 2001 arrest for assault with intention to commit sexual battery and previous domestic violence offenses.

Farkas said he has been happy with TPD’s response to the threat at his school, which he treats like a second home.

“There’s a little bit of fear that goes along with that,” said Farkas. “If there’s a threat to my school, I feel like they’re attacking my family.”

Friends have recently described Cano as a kid “who did not know how to vent,” or as a troubled teen. Since his arrest, a string of Facebook support pages have popped up like: “Save Jared Cano,” “Support Jared Cano” and “Free Jared Cano,” which literally have hundreds of “Likes” each.

Cano is currently at the mercy of the courts. He is being represented by a public defender, and the State Attorney’s Office has charged and will try him as an adult. Neither of his parent were present at his first court hearing.

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