Judge frees teen jailed in alleged bombing plot

Suspected gunpowder is flour and cornstarch

May 22, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County judge freed yesterday one of three teen-agers held in a juvenile jail since April 29 in an alleged bomb-making plot after tests showed that what authorities suspected was gunpowder seized from his home was flour and cornstarch.

The 15-year-old did not react to the decision until his attorney, Patrick M. Smith, squeezed his shoulders and said, "You're going home today." Then he nodded and perked up.

His mother left the courtroom with teary eyes but a smiling face. "I am very happy," she said.

The charges against the youth have not been dropped, and the investigation is continuing.

The boy, among three held at Waxter Children's Center in Laurel since the arrests, is charged with possession of bomb components and conspiracy, as is a 14-year-old. The third teen, another 14-year-old, is charged with making threats. All three are Glen Burnie High School students; other students had tipped administrators on April 28 to a rumored plot to detonate explosives at the school.

The Sun does not identify juveniles charged with crimes.

Smith had harsh words outside the courtroom, saying officials should have tested the powder immediately because those being detained were youths who were becoming distraught.

"I feel very vindicated that we have been correct all along," Smith said.

Smith said that next week he would seek the pretrial release of the 14-year-old charged with conspiracy, who is his client.

No hearing date has been set in juvenile court to air the charges.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael Bergeson told Circuit Judge Philip T. Caroom that he received laboratory results on the suspected gunpowder late Thursday and immediately contacted the defense attorney to arrange for an emergency hearing. Bergeson did not oppose Smith's impassioned request for his client's release.

"We have stated since Day One that he did not possess explosive material," Smith said. "We were correct in what we said it would come back" as.

Caroom said he did not believe the boy was a danger to the public and wondered if the charge would stick. "There is no crime that I am aware of in Maryland that is look-alike explosives," the judge said.

Outside the courtroom, Smith complained that another chemical compound police seized was part of a chemistry kit available at a Kay-Bee Toys store. It is similar, but not identical, to an ingredient listed in a bomb-making manual police said the students printed from the Internet.

"These kids were exploring on the Internet like many kids are exploring on the Internet," Smith said. They also had printed an Aerosmith song and Nintendo information, he said.

Also seized from the homes of two of the youths were BB pellets and model rockets. A hollow grenade was seized from the home of the teen-ager being freed. But Smith said reports that the mother of one of the 14-year-olds said the 15-year-old asked to store gunpowder at her home were not true.

Smith blamed the three Glen Burnie teen-agers' arrests on hysteria after the fatal shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., which had occurred a week earlier. In the aftermath, students at the sprawling Glen Burnie High School campus reported a "hit list" and threats. The backpack of one of the students detained contained a warning note about a May 10 tragedy to occur at the school, but the student denied being part of any such plot. Similar warnings were in fliers and posters around the school.

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