Howard student dies of poison

Youth arrested in case facing upgraded charges

Parents apologize in statement

Judge denies request on evaluation of suspect

January 09, 2003|By Larry Carson, Tricia Bishop and Jason Song | Larry Carson, Tricia Bishop and Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Benjamin Edward Vassiliev, the 17-year-old Centennial High School senior poisoned at a friend's home last week, died yesterday, said Howard County police and a spokeswoman for Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Police were in the process last night of upgrading criminal charges against classmate Ryan Thomas Furlough, 18, of Ellicott City to first-degree murder, police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said.

The investigation is "still active and ongoing," Llewellyn said.

District Judge Neil Edward Axel ordered Tuesday that Furlough receive a psychological evaluation.

But the judge said yesterday that he had rejected a request by Furlough's attorney to send him to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center for evaluation.

Furlough has been confined at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup since his arrest.

Ryan Furlough's parents, Susan and Tom Furlough, apologized for the tragedy in a statement issued last night by Jan O'Connor, their son's lawyer.

"We have been hoping and praying for the recovery of the other boy," the statement said. "We are deeply grieved at his passing. We are so sorry for the pain and suffering our son Ryan has caused Ben and his family. Our hearts go out to all those individuals involved. This incident is a tragedy for all and no words can say how deeply we regret any of these happenings."

Police said Vassiliev, of Ellicott City, collapsed Friday in Furlough's basement as the two played video games, and Furlough called to his mother for help. Vassiliev was taken to Howard County General Hospital and later taken to Johns Hopkins.

Furlough was charged with attempted first-degree murder and attempted poisoning Sunday, after police learned Vassiliev had been poisoned and a police search of the Furlough home turned up packaging for an order of potassium cyanide, court documents show.

Vassiliev's death was announced to Centennial's students over the public address system yesterday, county schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said.

"We're pretty much still in shock over this," Caplan said.

A crisis intervention team has been at the school since Tuesday and will remain there as long as needed, Caplan said. "They're there should a student need to talk about it," she said. "I'm sure there will be lots of emotional reaction. That's been kind of ongoing this week."

"Obviously, this whole thing has been very tragic, and the loss of this student's life saddens us all terribly," Caplan added. "Our hearts and thoughts go with his family."

Police said in charging documents that Furlough put potassium cyanide, a deadly poison that attacks the brain and heart, into Vassiliev's can of Vanilla Coke.

Bought over Internet

Furlough, who lives with his family in the 3500 block of Rhode Valley Trail, bought the cyanide on the Internet in October using his mother's credit card, according to charging documents.

Furlough, who apparently was romantically interested in Vassiliev's girlfriend, was planning to commit suicide after he killed his longtime friend, O'Connor said. But he became frightened when Vassiliev had a seizure about 8 p.m. and collapsed, the attorney said.

Vassiliev had a blood cyanide level two to three times normal levels when he was admitted to Hopkins pediatric intensive care unit Friday, according to charging documents.

At Furlough's bail review hearing Monday, his family and lawyer said he suffers from depression and has been under psychiatric care.

His mother said he began having problems after a ninth-grade essay assignment in which she and the family attorney said he was told to write from the viewpoint of a murderer.

O'Rourke denial

On Tuesday, Howard schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke denied that Furlough had been given any such assignment.

The superintendent issued a statement saying that the assignment was related to a discussion of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and students were asked to write about an occupation that interested them and describe a typical day.

However, Furlough said he had no choice but to write about being a murderer, according to O'Connor.

O'Connor said the teacher went around the room with a hat or bowl full of occupations written on small pieces of folded paper and the one he chose had "murderer" written on it.

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

School policy prohibits teaching methods that force students to make life or death decisions, the superintendent said.

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