Grant Shirley, 17 and Matthew Guey, 15, have been arrested following a plot to create a napalm bomb which was allegedly to be used to kill or maim classmates at a Jacksonville private school campus.
One of the teenagers reportedly accessed the dark web to research how to create a firebomb that would cause severe burns as well as death, causing flaming material to stick to the skin and flesh of victims as it burned.
Fistfight Led to Arrest at Jacksonville School
The plot was foiled only because the teens had a falling out resulting in a violent altercation that left them both hospitalized on February 18th.
The fight was serious enough that the school authorities launched an investigation to determine the issues between the boys, and came across comments made to each other online indicating that they were planning an attack on the school.
The administration expelled the boys immediately and reported the incident to the Jacksonville Sherrif's Office. The two boys were arrested and first taken for mental health screening at a medical facility before being placed under police custody on February 19th. Officials from the Sherrif's office searched the school along with campus security to determine whether any weapons or dangerous devices had been put in place already, and found none.
Shirley of Port St. Lucie and Guey from Houston were students at the Bolles school who resided on the boarding school's San Jose Boulevard Campus before being expelled.
Dark Web Investigation and Napalm Bomb
Further investigation revealed that one of the two teens had been frequenting hidden "onion" websites on the dark web to research how to make and detonate napalm bombs in accordance with the pair's planned attack.
They were charged with conspiracy to create, possess, situate, or release a destructive device on February 25th. Napalm bombs typically consist of specially-prepared concoction including an accelerant like gasoline and a gelling agent such as polystyrene or styrofoam. The gelling agent causes the accelerant to stick to surfaces while continuing to burn.
Such a device has very severe destructive potential.
The prosecution did not reveal which of the two teens was responsible for the research, nor did they mention the dark web sites by name.
The case brings to mind that of the Munich Shooting teen spree-killer Ali David Sonboly, an 18-year-old from Germany who accessed the dark web and purchased a Glock 17 handgun and 350 rounds of ammunition.
Sonboly received his firearm from an undisclosed illegal dark web marketplace and went on a rampage in Munich in 2016, killing nine people and injuring 16 more before turning the weapon on himself. The shooter had planned the attack for over a year, even soundproofing a basement to carry out target practice.
He had been the victim of bullying and was hospitalized in a mental health facility for two months before the attack. The dark web vendor who sold the weapon was subsequently traced and arrested.
Dark Web Weapons Trade
A study showed that the average price of a Kalashnikov AK-47 on the darknet is $2,800 - $3,600. While this is higher than in many black markets, there are advantages to the dark web - anonymity and ease of access.
In the past, the illegal weapons trade was for those who had at least some kind of connection to the criminal underworld. However, now anyone can access the black market for weapons and weapons tutorials such as bomb-making guides with relative ease.
The Rand Corporation commented on the potential security threat posed by dark web weapons markets compared to traditional black markets:
"Despite the relatively limited value and volume of weapons traded on the dark web compared to either other products type (e.g. drugs) or to equivalent products trafficked offline, the potential impact on internal security is significant as demonstrated by recent ‘lone-wolf’ terrorist attacks in Europe."
Information, as well as hardware, was acknowledged as a threat in the wrong hands:
"These products are often guides that provide tutorials for a wide range of illegal actions, ranging from the conversion of replica/alarm guns into live weapons, to the full manufacture of home-made guns and explosives, and also include models that can be turned into fully-working firearms through 3D printing."