"A Really Dumb Thing To Do":College Bomb Details

By Susan BushPrint Story | Email Story
Williamstown Police Department Sgt. Scott McGowan [Photo by Sue Bush]
Williamstown - No member of the general public or college population at large were in jeopardy as a trio of Williams College students attempted to assemble a homemade bomb during the wee hours of April 15, according to town police.

The failed bomb-making attempt occurred one day before 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui began his murderous rampage at the Virginia Tech campus. The mass murderer killed 32 people before turning the gun on himself.

Show-Cause Hearings Ahead

Town police Sgt. Scott McGowan said that police want to emphasize that the Williams incident occurred within a different context than the Virginia Tech incident and a subsequent series of bomb threats that swept college campuses nation-wide, including the Berkshire Community College campus. He characterized the incident as "a really dumb thing to do."

The three male students will be summonsed to the Northern Berkshire District Court for show-cause hearings, McGowan said.

Police will be able to present evidence as to why charges should be brought against the trio during the hearing and those facing the charges will be able to offer a defense.

Clerk-magistrates usually preside over show-cause hearings and after considering all factors presented, determine whether charges are filed. The names of the three students are currently being withheld because at this point, no charges have been filed. Police are asking that the three be charged with possession of an infernal machine, which is a felony, and disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, McGowan said.

Prison A Possibility, Search Warrant Was Issued

<L2>If charged and convicted on the felony charge, the students could face a maximum state prison term of ten years.

Police declined to disclose the type of bomb and the materials used to create it but McGowan did say that an inadvertent mingling of the substances would not have generated in an explosion.

"These materials - even if they combined during transportation - did not pose a threat," he said during an early afternoon interview at the town police station. The device required assembly before an explosion could result, he said. The device police found was assembled.

A search warrant was issued and executed for a student room at the Pratt resident hall as part of the investigation, McGowan said.

According to information posted at the Williams College web site, Pratt houses mostly first-year students.

Early Investigation Ruled Out Domestic Terrroism

According to McGowan, the investigation proceeded at a rapid pace after college security reported finding a device at the southwest corner of Cole Field. The identities of those involved were ascertained quickly, McGowan said.

"We were confident, based on our investigation, that we were not dealing with a domestic terror issue," he said. "We were able to determine that there was no threat to the student population or the public."

At the time of the incident, police said they also ruled out any connection to the then upcoming anniversaries of the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah federal building or the April 20, 1999 Colorado-based Columbine high school shootings.

After the news broke about the Virginia Tech shootings, police found no links between the situations at the two colleges, he said.

FBI Involved

"This was a very aggressive, 'round-the-clock investigation," McGowan said. "We were overwhelmingly convinced that this was a separate type of incident."

The investigation concluded yesterday. In addition to college safety and security officers and town police, Massachusetts State Police officers and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were involved with the investigation.

Concerns of Panic, Copycat Incidents

In a written statement, Johnson said that he believed releasing information before the investigation concluded would have led to possible panic.

"We did not want to go public with more questions than answers to avoid a widespread panic," he said. "Also we wanted to avoid any copycat scenarios."

Information was gathered very early during the investigation process and that evidence did provide a solid foundation that no continuing threat remained.

"We knew a lot of information early on from the evidence we had gathered," Johnson said. "The unthinkable event at Virginia Tech certainly caused concern but I still believe that a public announcement in the immediate aftermath would have caused more bad than good. It would have jeopardized the investigation, created panic, and promoted possible copycat scenarios."

College officials notified police immediately after college security officers found the device, Johnson said.

"Williams handled the situation as we wanted, with immediate notification to us and full cooperation with the investigation," he said. "The three involved persons put themselves in danger, and I feel it ended there."

Police said earlier today that the three students who allegedly made the bomb were "curious" and had no intention of harming any persons.

Police said that the bomb was ignited but failed to detonate.

Curious?

The delay in public notification and the assessment of the students as "curious" was not comforting to North Adams resident Wayne Golka.

"How many more curious students are there at Williams?" he asked during a brief interview.

Town resident and retired town police Sgt. Vincent Zoito said his concerns surround the broader issue of risks on college and high school campuses and what appears to be a reluctance to take strong actions against students demonstrating dangerous behaviors or who break laws.

School authorities are often nervous about possible repercussions if they take action, but failing to take action often leads to tragic situations.

"What is so wrong about doing the things that are right?" he asked.

Students Notified Of Bomb Today

Several Williams College students said that they received an e-mail from school officials about the bomb earlier today. Students were not formally informed of the campus incident prior to today but college President Morton O. Schapiro did send a lengthy e-mail about college security procedures on Monday after the Virginia Tech shootings, the students said.

The e-mail was also sent to parents and detailed such things as "panic buttons" and campus drills, the students said.

Kaylan Thildsey, a college senior, said that she believes the college security measures are effective and said that she feels safe on campus. Senior Kate Whipple said that in a post 9-11 era, there is some risk almost everywhere. Life cannot stop because of it.

"A bunch of us are going to New York [city] to work, and my mom always worries," she said. "She worries about the subways and things like that. There is a small risk, but I don't think there's much you can do [to eliminate all risk]."

The Scary Part Is...

College senior Toby Schneider said that he doesn't believe college officials had reason to notify the students earlier about the explosive device.

"I don't think there was anything there that we needed to know," he said. "I think [college] security does a good job here and I don't feel threatened here at Williams. There's freedoms that we are given and you have to hope that people don't act like lunatics."

It's believing that people will not do their worst that may pose the biggest risk, said Williams senior Maggie Miller.

"I think that's the scary part," she said. "The scary part is thinking you are safe, and finding out that you're not."
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