Md. teen accused of online threat

Walkersville resident is suspect in message to two girls in Calif.

March 11, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

WALKERSVILLE - An 18-year-old resident of this Frederick County town was awaiting extradition yesterday, accused of sending violent threats to teen-agers in the California town where two students were shot to death last week.

Maryland State Police arrested Patrick Andrew Smith, 18, just after 9:30 p.m. Friday - about 12 hours after two San Diego detectives flew into Maryland because they had tracked Internet messages here.

Smith also is accused of sending a threatening message Tuesday to a student at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where 13 people were shot to death in 1999.

A 2000 graduate of Walkersville High School, Smith worked at a ski shop and planned to go to college in West Virginia, friends said.

State police picked up Smith near his home on Wyndale Court, a few miles northeast of Frederick, and charged him with one count of first-degree assault, two counts of misdemeanor e-mail harassment and one count of threatening students at school. In California, he was charged with two counts of making terrorist threats.

He is being held at Frederick County Detention Center.

"He's probably facing close to 50 years in this case," said Scott Rolle, Frederick County state's attorney.

State police said someone sent threatening "instant messages" - a form of online conversation - to two girls in Santee, Calif., about 1 a.m. Thursday. The person apparently sifted through America Online profiles to find the two girls, police said.

One message said: "Don't go to school Friday, I liked you, but I'm finishing what Andy started and this time it's going to work."

One of the students attends Santana High School in Santee, where 15-year-old Charles Andrew "Andy" Williams is accused of killing two students and wounding 13 others on Monday.

In a second message to one of the girls, the sender threatened to "blow your [expletive] head off."

So frightened were students, parents and teachers at Santana High that administrators closed school early Friday.

The messages had been sent in a way that prevented authorities from immediately identifying the author. A multiagency computer crimes investigative unit from the San Diego area traced the messages through several Internet services to Maryland, and, with the state police's help, to Walkersville. Police seized Smith's laptop and the family computer after arresting him.

"Most people are under the impression that they're anonymous; they hide behind the anonymity of their screen name," said Gary Williams, a detective with the San Diego sheriff's office and one of the two who flew into Maryland on Friday. "But really, truly, they're not anonymous."

Police said they know of no connection between Smith and Andy Williams, who lived in Knoxville in Frederick County before moving to Southern California.

Gary Williams said Smith was "shocked" to be arrested but was cooperative when investigators questioned him for more than 90 minutes Friday night. "We're absolutely certain we have the right individual," Williams said.

If Smith waives his right to fight extradition to California, police could take him there within a month. Rolle, the state's attorney, said he will talk to San Diego authorities this week to decide whether Smith will face trial first in Maryland or California. Smith's father said yesterday that the family wasn't ready to comment.

Described as a religious person and a gentle joker, the teen-ager had been taking a break from college and intended to begin again next fall, friends said.

"He was a very, very nice, down-to-earth guy," said Laura Meilleur, 16, a co-worker at Inner Ski and Sport in Frederick. "He was a joking person - like [putting] a [toy] snake in a drawer - but he wouldn't do anything like this."

She added: "I think he was just doing a really stupid joke."

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