Darlene Wendels / The Collegian
Fresno police arrested two suspects in the graffiti tagging and bomb threat at Bullard High School on Thursday that led to the early evacuation of students and “copycat” threats on social media of a mass shooting.
Aaron Nevarez, 18, and his 17-year-old brother, who was not named because he is a minor, were arrested around noon at their home near the northwest Fresno school, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said. With help from the FBI, police located the brothers after combing through social media.
Dyer said police were also seeking a third suspect.
Bullard High principal Brian Beck received an email around 11 a.m. Thursday saying a bomb would detonate on campus. The email was from “The Merry Men,” the same signature left behind at a string of recent graffiti attacks at the school and nearby churches. The brothers are suspected of these taggings and face felony charges of vandalism.
Police and bomb-squad dogs searched the campus for explosive devices throughout the day and found nothing. Although investigators did not find the bomb threat credible because of the email’s lack of specific details, school officials decided to release students after their fourth-period classes as a precaution.
“We weren’t certain what we really had,” Dyer said. “The difficulty in law enforcement at times is not knowing when people are simply out vandalizing and tagging locations versus those individuals that pose real threats to us.”
Bullard High was vandalized on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, St. Anthony’s of Padua, a Catholic church on the corner of Maroa and Bullard avenues, was tagged on July 7, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on Maroa and Barstow avenues, during the weekend of Aug. 29. Dyer said all taggings were attributed to The Merry Men.
Prior to the email being sent, there was already increased security at the school after a Wednesday night tweet from two individuals threatening to “shoot up” the school went viral. Dyer said investigators believe that while the tweet is unrelated to The Merry Men vandalism and bomb threat, the suspects are “copycats” whom police are working to locate, and possibly arrest.
According to his Facebook page, Aaron Nevarez is a Marine recruit. Nevarez was discharged from the Marines on Thursday after news of his arrest broke, according to local reports.
Investigators believe the younger brother has attended or currently is attending Bullard High.
Police searched the suspects’ home shortly after noon and found firearms, airsoft guns, paint guns and writings similar to the graffiti tagged in the churches and Bullard High. Neither brother has a criminal history.
“There are some young men whose lives are going to be very, very different from the rest of their lives because they penned a couple of emails and they got involved with social media that they thought was cute and funny or going to be disruptive,” said Michael Hanson, Fresno Unified School District superintendent.
Describing Thursday’s incident as “a horrific waste of time,” Hanson said youth need to consider the consequences of what they write and where they write it.
“I don’t think they thought about chief of police Jerry Dyer; they didn’t think about the FBI. They didn’t think about felonies,” Hanson said. “They didn’t think about the rest of their lives being incredibly different as they are going to be now.”
About 800 students did not show up to school Thursday morning following the online threat of a mass shooting, Hanson said.
Bullard High, which has an enrollment of about 2,000 students, will resume classes today. Hanson said after-school sports practices and activities Thursday would not be affected by the bomb threat.
The school sent a phone message from Beck, the principal, to parents notifying them of the early release.