Teens released pending trial in bomb scare

Eighth-graders accused in Sudbrook threat

May 30, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN REPORTER

Two teenage girls detained this month on explosives charges after a threatening note led to the evacuation of their middle school were released yesterday to await trial.

The girls - both 14 years old and eighth-graders at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School in the Pikesville area - had been scheduled for trial yesterday.

But when those court proceedings were postponed, a Baltimore County juvenile court judge ordered that the teenagers be released to their parents' custody pending trial.

Both girls shuffled into the courtroom yesterday afternoon with their ankles shackled. With juvenile master Paul J. Hanley's decision to release the girls on "community detention," which restricts their activities, sheriff's deputies removed the shackles, and the girls accepted hugs from their family members.

Attorneys representing the girls said that sending them home with their families was the right decision.

"These girls were never a threat to the community," said James Rhodes, an attorney representing one of the students. "What they did, at best, might have been disruptive to the school. But they were never a threat."

The teenagers have been detained at a juvenile facility in Laurel since May 3, when they were arrested and charged with felony possession of an explosive or incendiary device after telling investigators that they had tried without success to set off a homemade bomb at their school about two weeks earlier.

A day after the arrests, a juvenile court judge declared that she had to "be concerned about community safety" and ordered that the girls be detained to await trial at the Waxter Children's Center in Laurel.

Prosecutor Rachel Cogen told the juvenile judge presiding over yesterday's hearing that the state was not opposed to the girls' release and that electronic monitoring was not necessary while the teenagers are on house arrest.

In an interview after the hearing, she said that authorities have collected a lot more information about the situation at Sudbrook since that initial detention hearing and that prosecutors have also reviewed the girls' psychiatric evaluations, family histories and background information prepared by the Waxter Center.

"The details have now been revealed," said A. Jai Bonner, an attorney representing one of the girls. "It's safe to say that everyone views them a lot differently now that the whole story is out as opposed to before when everything wasn't known."

She declined to elaborate on the information now available to authorities.

Sudbrook Magnet Middle School was evacuated and closed May 3 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.

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.

County police found a document, which one of the girls said had been printed from the Internet, that explained how to construct a "soda pop bomb," typically made of household materials. The girls later told police that they had tried to detonate a bomb at the school, according to police.

No one was injured, and police never found the bottle in which the girls had allegedly attempted to mix the materials.

Hanley, the juvenile master, ordered that the girls have no contact with any witnesses in the case, stay away from Sudbrook and abide by all the restrictions of house arrest, which generally prohibits juveniles from leaving their homes except to go to school, doctors' appointments, religious services and meetings with their attorneys.

Because the girls are forbidden from returning to Sudbrook, defense attorneys said they expect their clients will wrap up the academic year in private school or through a home-schooling program.

"Is anyone excusing both girls at this point for everything they did? No," said Rhodes, one of the defense attorneys. "Because whether it's a joke or a prank or you're just talking about the Virginia Tech matter, in this day and age, you just can't do that."

He said the girls never attempted to create an explosive device and he expects that prosecutors will drop all charges stemming from that allegation.

Cogen, the prosecutor, said that decision won't be made until the trial.

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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