Arrests, hoax revealed in bomb scare
An anarchy symbol with a red dripping stain, a dark-colored tube taped to a post, and a white cylinder with what appear to be protruding wires are among the evidence discovered outside Brownsville Elementary School and Henley Middle School in western Albemarle County on Tuesday, March 27. The discoveries prompted administrators to close both schools for the day and launch an investigation involving "between 10 and 15 public safety agencies, local, state and federal," says Lt. John Teixeira of Albemarle County police.
This afternoon, Teixeira announced the arrest of two Henley students, both under 14. Each has been charged with four felony counts of constructing and/or placing a hoax explosive device. If convicted, the youths could be incarcerated until they turn 21.
A call to the home of one of the teens was answered by a woman who hung up when asked about the situation. Already, there are messages of support from friends on one of the suspects' MySpace.com page, such as "if i find someone that snitched on you i'll kick there a** for you guys," and "iama go investigate cuz i dotn bealive u did it man."
If the incident gives a feeling of deja vu, it's not surprising. Last year Albemarle County was embroiled in a high profile case of three Albemarle students accused of plotting to blow up two schools. That case was shrouded in secrecy for months, and after one child's case went to court, it became apparent that the only evidence were self-incriminating statements, including one boy's Myspace page and another's hour-plus time spent at the police station, parentless and lawyerless. Critics accused police and prosecutors of overreacting in that case, and of running roughshod over the students' civil rights.
While Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos says he believes he handled that case appropriately, he admits his office and the police have done some things differently this time around. "We've released photos, let it be known they were hoaxes early on," he says, citing a wish to "calm the fears of parents."
But if the investigators realized two days ago that all devices were hoaxes and had opened the school Wednesday, why didn't the county make the announcement sooner and put parents' minds at ease? Camblos and Teixeira decline to answer specifically. "What has been released was done at earliest moment we felt it appropriate to do that," says Camblos. "It's a fine line between moving quickly and moving too quickly."
In addition to human detectives working on this week's case, a dozen bomb sniffing dogs were brought down from Northern Virginia to assist the search of school property.
According to a County press release, four devices were discovered– three at Henley (including one on the roof), one at Brownsville, and the note was at Henley.
Because of the age of the suspects, police decline to reveal any other details about the youths including gender or the location of the arrests except to say "cooperative efforts of the community, schools and commonwealth attorney's office together with the Police Department," led to the speedy arrests. An investigation is ongoing.
Camblos says "schools are safe from this threat," and that parents should feel secure in allowing their children to return to class. As for the nature of juvenile cases, which by law are closed to the public, Camblos says it's a "frustrating" line to walk.
"We're conflicted between the fears of the community and the protection of children under 14 that limits our ability to talk about what has happened."