Bomb-plot charges against teen-agers to be dropped

Experts say materials found in Anne Arundel homes weren't explosive

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

Anne Arundel County prosecutors are expected to drop all charges today against two Glen Burnie teen-agers accused of possessing bomb-making components, after explosives experts concluded that the materials the youths had could not be used to make a bomb.

The Glen Burnie High School students, ages 14 and 15, are expected to appear before a juvenile master this morning, their attorney confirmed. The prosecutor in the case could not be reached last night.

"The sure thing went down the tubes for them," an angry Patrick M. Smith, the boys' lawyer, said of the prosecution's case. "It never was as serious as they made it."

Both teen-agers were charged April 29 with possession of bomb-making components and conspiracy in what police and students feared was a plot to detonate homemade explosives at school. Occurring a week after the fatal shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., rumors of a bomb plot set off a panic among Glen Burnie students and parents.

The case began to unravel three weeks later, when material taken from one youth's home, which police and prosecutors suspected was gunpowder, turned out to be flour and cornstarch. By then, the 15-year-old had spent three weeks in Waxter Children's Center, a juvenile jail in Laurel. The 14-year-old was released from Waxter a week later and placed under house arrest. He lost his part-time job.

The Sun does not publish the names of juveniles charged with crimes.

Smith blamed the handling of the case, with the youths being detained, on concerns ignited by the Columbine shootings. "The whole United States was all caught up in the incident in Colorado," he said.

Police seized what they believed were bomb components from the homes of the two boys. Among items they removed were a toy-store chemistry kit; a how-to manual that included bomb-making tips printed from an Internet site; an old, empty grenade; BB pellets; charcoal; and model rockets. That array of items initially helped prosecutors win pretrial detention of the youths. A note warning of doom at the school May 10 was found in the backpack of one of the boys.

Smith maintained that prosecutors had "spaghetti sauce without the tomatoes" and attributed the cache to "teen-age curiosity" and exploration, rather than an intent to harm. Asked whether police intervention had stopped the youths short of making an explosive, Smith said he did not think the boys were trying to manufacture a bomb.

Other students alerted administrators April 28 to a third student, age 14, who allegedly told a classmate teasing him that the classmate was on a hit list and that he and other students would use bombs, not guns as at Columbine.

That boy, described as a casual acquaintance of the other two, was charged with conspiracy and making threats. He pleaded guilty May 28 to disrupting school activities, a lesser charge, and was placed on probation and ordered to perform 120 hours of community service. He entered an Alford plea, in which he acknowledged prosecutors had evidence to convict him but did not admit guilt.

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