Schools dispute report about suspect's essay

Teen held in poisoning not told to write violent paper, says administrator

January 08, 2003|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Ryan Thomas Furlough, the Centennial High School senior accused of poisoning his friend with cyanide last week, was not assigned to write an essay from the point of view of a murderer, Howard County Superintendent John R. O'Rourke said yesterday.

Furlough's mother and his lawyer said Monday that he was told to "put himself in the shoes" of a murderer as part of a ninth-grade English assignment.

"There is no substance to the allegations that the assignment given to Ryan required him to write a composition from the viewpoint of a murderer," said O'Rourke in a news release e-mailed to The Sun yesterday.

Furlough's parents said the essay was the first sign that he suffered from depression and noted he had been counseled by psychiatrists and taking antidepressants ever since, said his lawyer, Jan O'Connor.

Furlough, 18, of the 3500 block of Rhode Valley Trail in Ellicott City, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder and other crimes. He is accused of putting potassium cyanide in Benjamin Edward Vassiliev's can of soda Friday as the two played video games at Furlough's home.

Furlough, who was romantically interested in Vassiliev's girlfriend, bought the cyanide on the Internet in October, according to police charging documents.

Vassiliev, 17, a junior at Centennial High School, was admitted to the Johns Hopkins Hospital on Friday and was reported to be in critical condition Monday. Hospital officials would not release any information on Vassiliev's condition yesterday at the request of his parents.

O'Rourke did not read Furlough's paper but reviewed the assignment, which he said instructed students to select an occupation that interests them and to describe a typical day in the profession.

"I want to assure parents that the actual lesson and the assignment given were consistent with sound instructional practice and have been in use in the ninth-grade curriculum at Centennial for years," O'Rourke said.

O'Connor said late yesterday that her client said he had no choice but to write about being a murderer. Furlough's teacher went around the room with a hat or bowl full of occupations written onto small pieces of folded paper and Furlough chose a paper that had "murderer" written on it, O'Connor said.

O'Rourke said the review revealed "nothing about a bowl."

"There's no indication of anything like that," he said.

Furlough is being held without bond at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup. Howard County District Judge Neil Edward Axel is considering an order that would place Furlough in a maximum security state mental hospital.

Grief counselors were on campus yesterday at Centennial, said district spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

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