Howard teen charged in poisoning of friend

Boy in hospital

motive was jealousy, police say

January 07, 2003|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

A Centennial High School senior has been arrested on charges that he tried to kill a friend last week by putting cyanide in his beverage, Howard County police said yesterday.

Ryan Thomas Furlough, 18, of the 3500 block of Rhode Valley Trail, Ellicott City, was charged Sunday with attempted first-degree murder and attempted poisoning. He is alleged to have put potassium cyanide in Benjamin Edward Vassiliev's soda Friday night as the two played video games at Furlough's home, according to charging documents.

Vassiliev, 17, a junior at Centennial, was in critical condition at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore last night. When he was admitted to the emergency room Friday, Vassiliev's blood cyanide level was two to three times higher than normal, according to the documents.

Police said Vassiliev is an Ellicott City resident but refused to disclose his address.

During a brief bond review hearing yesterday, Furlough's family and lawyer said he suffers from severe depression and has been seeing psychiatrists. According to charging documents, Furlough, who was romantically interested in Vassiliev's girlfriend, had been planning the crime since at least October.

Howard District Judge Neil Edward Axel denied bond for Furlough yesterday. His lawyer had requested that Furlough be sent to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, a maximum-security state mental hospital in Jessup. Axel had not ruled on the request, and Furlough was being held at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup last night. The judge ordered that Furlough receive medical attention at the detention center.

Although Furlough is essentially a loner, said his lawyer, Jan O'Connor of Columbia, he was friends with Vassiliev and a group of about five other youths, including one girl.

Vassiliev and Furlough had been friends since kindergarten, said Furlough's mother, Susan. "They were best friends." she said.

But Furlough and Vassiliev had grown distant in the past several years, and Vassiliev had begun dating their mutual female friend, O'Connor said.

Furlough apparently was jealous because of the girlfriend and wrote Vassiliev a letter, dated June 19.

Part of it read: "There isn't a day that passes by where I don't think about her ..." and "I will never give up until I have the key to her heart," charging documents state.

The documents also state that Furlough began to fantasize about killing himself and Vassiliev in October, when he used his mother's credit card to purchase the cyanide over the Internet from a chemical supplier.

Police said Furlough and Vassiliev were playing video games at Furlough's home Friday when Vassiliev drank a soda that was spiked with cyanide.

Furlough had planned to kill himself as well, O'Connor said, but when Vassiliev had a seizure about 8 p.m., it scared Furlough and he did not ingest any cyanide. Instead, he tried to get help for Vassiliev, O'Connor said.

Vassiliev was taken to Howard County General Hospital and later was transported to Hopkins.

Furlough's parents realized he has a violent side several years ago, when his English teacher assigned his class to put themselves "in the shoes of a murderer," O'Connor said.

When Susan Furlough saw what her son had written, she became disturbed and went to the school to complain, O'Connor said.

After the assignment, Furlough's mother also sent him to private and school mental health providers, O'Connor said.

Furlough has been on anti-depressant medication for about two years, she added.

Although school officials apologized, "the damage had been done ... [the assignment] put him off in a different direction," O'Connor said.

Howard schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan declined to comment on the assignment or the poisoning, but said, "Our hearts go out to the parents of both of these young men."

Sun staff writer Tricia Bishop contributed to this article.

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