NEWS-No laughing matter: Bomb hoax nets felony charges
Despite a letter of apology from one of the two Henley Middle School students charged with planting fake bombs at two schools on Tuesday, March 20, both still face four felony counts of constructing and/or placing a hoax explosive device. In addition, one of the students faces two misdemeanor counts of making threats to bomb or damage buildings.
"I want to tell my school and the entire community how incredibly sorry I am for my part in the bomb scare this week," said the student in a statement released by attorney Richard DeLoria on Friday, March 29 in front of the Albemarle County Courthouse.
The bomb scare caused schools to be closed for a full day while between 10 and 15 law enforcement agencies and a dozen bomb-sniffing dogs searched the grounds of Henley Middle and Brownsville Elementary schools in Crozet. Evidence of the plot included 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.
On the afternoon of Friday, March 29– the same day the letter was released– Albemarle County police lieutenant John Teixeira announced the arrest of the two Henley students, both under 14. If convicted of all counts, 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. Messages of support from friends have been posted 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."
The incident provokes a feeling of déjà vu for some county parents. 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 only after one child's case went to court was it revealed that the prosecution was based on self-incriminating statements, one made on a Myspace page, and the other from the boy's hour-plus interrogation at the police station, parentless and lawyerless. Critics accused police and prosecutors of overreacting and of running roughshod over the students' civil rights.
While Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos says he believes he handled last year's case appropriately, he admits his office and the police did some things differently this time as a result. "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 almost immediately that all devices were hoaxes and reopened 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."
According to a county press release, four devices were discovered in all– three at Henley (including one on the roof) and one at Brownsville; the note was at Henley.
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."
This note with an "anarchy" symbol was among the threatening items found at Brownsville Elementary and Henley Middle schools.
COURTESY ALBEMARLE POLICE