Teen girls ordered held after bomb note

Threat caused evacuation of Sudbrook Middle

May 05, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

A Baltimore County juvenile court judge ordered yesterday that two teenage girls be detained until they can be tried on explosives charges filed after a threatening note led to the evacuation and early closing of a county middle school.

Master Jacqueline E. Dawson said that she had "to be concerned about community safety" in deciding whether to allow one of the girls to return home with her parents or be held at a juvenile facility to await trial.

Dawson closed the courtroom for the detention hearing of the other girl after that teenager's lawyer argued that she could not speak freely with reporters and others in the courtroom about "sensitive matters" she wanted the judge to consider.

The girls - ages 13 and 14 - were arrested Thursday after telling investigators that they had tried without success to set off a homemade bomb about two weeks ago at their school, Sudbrook Magnet Middle School in the Pikesville area, county police said. At least one of the girls had previously sent a text message that referred to the recent killings at Virginia Tech and that described plans for a shooting at the middle school, police said.

The school was evacuated and closed Thursday after the mother of a student brought to the principal's attention a threatening note that referred to a "hit list" that was allegedly written by one of the girls.

The judge's decision to detain both girls until their May 29 trial date capped a pair of brief but emotional hearings. The father of one girl was escorted out by sheriff's deputies. The outburst occurred after defense attorney Dante Blue, standing in for James Rhodes, the lawyer retained by the girl's family, told the judge Rhodes would not be available for trial until June.

"Then we'll get another lawyer," a woman seated with the girl's parents yelled.

The girl's father told the judge that she should schedule the trial as soon as possible, and that if Rhodes was not available, "we'll get other counsel." When the father again spoke out, a sheriff's deputy asked him to leave.

The girl did not say anything. Wearing brown pants, a pink, collared shirt and glasses, she stared straight ahead in court.

Blue, the defense attorney standing in for Rhodes, characterized the incident that prompted the girls to be charged Thursday with felony possession of an explosive or incendiary device as "an extremely large miscommunication and misunderstanding."

"As you can see, this child is not a danger to anyone," Blue told the judge. But after reading the police report and other documents, Dawson countered, "Considering the actions I just read about, I have to disagree with you."

Blue described the girl as popular and told the judge that she had never been in trouble.

"She has not done anything," the lawyer said. "She has not hurt anyone in any of the situations that she is alleged to have been involved in."

After the closed hearing later in the afternoon, defense attorney A. Jai Bonner described her client's arrest as "an extreme response to what is normally benign behavior by young kids."

"But post-Columbine and post-Virginia Tech, these kinds of scenarios are being dealt with in a very different way," Bonner said. "It's unfortunate that these harsh stances have to be taken until the court has an understanding of who they're dealing with."

F. Spencer Gordon, a defense attorney who represents clients in adult and juvenile court, said that judges seem particularly sensitive to cases involving allegations of school violence.

"These are hot-button issues," he said. "We've learned that with any potential threat of violence in schools, you can't help but take it very seriously."

The juvenile court system is much more focused on treatment and finding programs to help children correct whatever behavior has landed them in trouble, Gordon said.

"It's much less about punishment and deterrence, and more about helping the kids become law-abiding citizens as adults," he said.

As such, punishments handed out by juvenile judges - or masters, as they are called - can range from community service and indefinite periods of probation to confinement in a juvenile facility.

The teenagers are being held at the Waxter Children's Center in Laurel.

Police first became aware of the girls' threats against Sudbrook Middle shortly after the Virginia Tech shootings. During their initial investigation, county police found a document that explained how to construct a "soda pop bomb," according to a police report. One of the girls told police that she printed it out from the Internet, the report said.

No charges were filed then because investigators determined that no crime had been committed.

The father of one of the girls said that his daughter was suspended from school for eight days after she and the other teenager were joking about the Virginia Tech shootings and an effort to "try and break the record."

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