The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office says the teen allegedly responsible for the Sept. 11 threats that shuttered San Gabriel Elementary School in Atascadero for two weeks will be tried as an adult.
The District Attorney’s Office announced late Tuesday that Bret Stephen Landen, now 18, of Atascadero, will face 25 counts of making criminal threats, two counts of threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction, two counts of felony attempted criminal threats and two counts of second-degree burglary, all felonies.
The decision to try Landen as an adult was made during a fitness hearing Tuesday morning. As of Tuesday evening, charges had not yet been filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. Landen is scheduled to appear for an arraignment before Judge Jacqueline Duffy on Friday.
Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said bail has been set at $500,000; however, it was not clear if Landen remained in the county Juvenile Services Center on Tuesday. He was not listed in custody at San Luis Obispo County Jail.
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Police did not initially release Landen’s name when he was arrested on Oct. 14, citing his age. He turned 18 last month. He was arrested on suspicion of using a facsimile weapon of mass destruction and threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Police said they believed he acted alone.
The incident began the morning of Sept. 11, when school employees found threatening letters and a suspicious object before classes started at San Gabriel Elementary.
The suspicious object, a candle holder that was zip-tied to a chain-link fence near the playground, contained sodium ferrocyanide.
Letters found outside classrooms instructed officials to “play a game,” similar to the popular “Saw” horror film franchise, and indicated the liquid was a combination of cyanide and acid.
In one letter, the person instructed teachers to locate different sets of keys, some for classrooms and some for padlocks left on school gates. The letter instructed staff to retrieve keys from the candle holder containing the liquid near the playground.
“If these tasks are not completed by 8:00 a.m., there will be consequences to follow, possibly affecting the children,” the letter read. “Make your choice.”
Atascadero police Chief Jerel Haley said in a previous interview that sodium ferrocyanide is far less toxic than most forms of cyanide and is found in different commercial products. He said the amount of sodium ferrocyanide found would have been toxic only if ingested and it would not have produced “off-gassing,” or the harmful release of vaporized cyanide.
City police, as well as the county Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad and the county Hazardous Materials Team, conducted an extensive sweep of the campus based on threats made in the letters. The Atascadero Unified School District also hired a certified environmental monitoring service to thoroughly examine the interior and exterior of the school campus. Testing results did not detect any harmful chemicals.
The school’s 570 students were relocated to other campuses for two weeks during the investigation.
According to the Atascadero High School website, Landen was a cross-country track runner with a 4.0 GPA in the 2014-15 school year. The SLO Symphony website lists Landen as a violin player in its 2015-16 Youth Concert Orchestra.