Atascadero teen accused of fake WMD stunt identified

December 16, 2015

The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office has identified the teen who allegedly caused the two-week shutdown of an Atascadero elementary school. A judge ruled Tuesday that Bret Stephen Landen will be tried as an adult.

Landen was 17 years old when he allegedly placed a fake chemical weapon on the grounds of San Gabriel Elementary School on Sept. 11. The Atascadero teen turned 18 on November 7, apparently while in custody.

When the San Luis Obispo County bomb squad arrived at the elementary school on Sept. 11, officers found a suspicious jar containing chemicals zip-tied to a fence near the playground. A note placed nearby said the jar contained cyanide mixed with a strong acid.

However, laboratory tests showed the suspicious substance was sodium ferrocyanide mixed with a mildly acidic liquid. The substance was not capable of producing a dangerous gas, but it could have caused significant injury or death if a person ingested it, Atascadero police said.9019473_G

Landen also allegedly left threatening letters around campus that were addressed to teachers and directed them to the jar with the suspicious substance. The notes also discussed playing a game and warned that children could be at risk.

“If these tasks are not completed by 8 a.m., there will be consequences to follow, possibly affecting the children. Make your choice,” the letter stated.


Officers arrested Landen on Oct. 14. Authorities did not release his name following the arrest.

On Tuesday, Landen appeared in San Luis Obispo Juvenile Court for a “fitness hearing,” according to a county district attorney’s office press release. A judge found Landen unfit for juvenile court and transferred his case to adult court.

Landen is now scheduled to appear in San Luis Obispo Superior Court for an arraignment hearing on Friday.

Prosecutors will likely charge Landen with 25 counts of felony criminal threats, two counts of felony threat to use a weapon of mass destruction, two counts of felony attempted criminal threats and two counts of felony second-degree burglary.

Landen’s bail is set at $500,000, according to the press release. The San Luis Obispo County Jail website does not list Landen as being in custody. The sheriff’s office website does not state who is in the Juvenile Services Center.

KSBY reports Landen had been in the Juvenile Services Center since his arrest, but his family was posting bail Tuesday evening.

Landen’s father said the incident was an ill-conceived prank that was not meant to hurt anyone or cause terror. Landen used chemicals from his father’s childhood chemistry set to conduct the prank, Landen’s father said.

He also said he hopes the full story will exonerate his son.

Landen had a 4.0 or higher GPA at Atascadero High School in the the 2014-2015 school year, according to the school website.


Look, I have elementary aged children. You learn to deal with the fact that everyday you drop your child off at school and their lives are no longer directly in your hands anymore. They have to deal with work, tests, peer pressures, and all that other “normal life” stuff on their own. Now we live in a world where a possibility exists that some crazy will come into their school wishing to do real harm. A school lockdown is a freaky thing for any parent to have to deal with, not to mention costly and dangerous for law enforcement and others responding to it.

If this was a “prank”, it was a highly criminal prank. He deserves jail time, and to have his life turned over a few times to make certain it was not more than a “joke”.


I totally agree with you!


I wonder what his parents are like.

Ben Daho

I hate to say it but this needs to be a NATIONAL story. People need to know this is life destroying behavior. Copy cats need to be scared shitless. We’ve been having fake issues throughout history but enough of the “he didn’t know better” this was a well planned attack. He was absolutely malicious in intent. I feel bad but if his name was Mohamed, or Tyrone, how would we view it?


I do agree that kids need to know where to draw the line for pranks.

Go watch some youtube pranks, maybe extreme pranks in the ghetto.

I don’t agree that this was a well-planned attack, I’d say it was more like a well-planned prank that turned into a big FAIL. Nevertheless, he needs to have consequences for the fear he caused.

Of course Landen’s mental health will all come out eventually and then we’ll all know if he is a disturbed maniac like the Sandy Hook killer, or if he is a stupid kid thinking he was funny. Or maybe he’s a little bit of both. We’ll see.


From the beginning I thought it sounded like a prank a kid would do. The trouble is, how do you tell the crazies from the dummies?

Part of the problem is the screwed up educational system we have. How about having some curriculum taught each year designed to teach the kids “How not to ruin your life”.

We have the schools going ultra liberal, with no discipline and an anything goes policy. They pretty much can’t suspend kids anymore.

Indoctrinating kids to think a boy is really a girl if he thinks he is a she AND then loading them up with psychotropics. We send kids to school to be surrounded by all kinds of insanity and then we wonder why they act out.

My hopes go out to this kid’s family. I hope psychological tests turn out that he doesn’t have a personality disorder, and that it turns out his actions reflect his lack of frontal cortex development, which doesn’t develop fully until age 25.


Mom and Dad are supposed to teach the “how not to ruin your life” curriculum from day 1 when the kid is born.


achillesheal, You are correct. Mom and Dad should be the ones to teach their children how to behave. However, what do you do for the kids whose parents are acting out their own ruination? Instead of pretending like all the kids are going to be rocket scientists, the schools could devote more time to personal adjustment and living well with others. Look at public schools today. They recognize that not all kids learn the same and that some kids have to be retaught over and over until they learn. Same principle should go with “How not to ruin your life’. Put more effort into what is important.

Ted Slanders

Bret Landon will have to learn life the hard way, and like Ned stated, in today’s environment one does NOT play such games as described. With a 4.0 grade average, seemingly Bret is only “book smart,” and not street smart. Sad.

Now the courts and the laws of our land will take over, just like Jesus stated, to wit: “For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” ( Romans 13:4 )


Bad news for this poor dad. I don’t think the “full story” is likely to exonerate the boy turned man overnight.


Hey Dad, maybe if you stopped making excuses for him and had held the kid accountable a few times, you wouldn’t need to be making excuses for him now when the stakes are so high.

Terrorizing an elementary school Your boy is going to jail.


I see a lengthy prison stretch in young Mr. Landen’s future. Not that any time is good to threaten entire school campuses with violence, but these things are taken much more seriously than they were in the days before mass school killings became a regular occurrence.


Sick dude, he is soon to find out that life is not a video game.