Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Westhill HS Students Arrested After Setting Off Homemade Explosives (June 2011)

Response to Student Homemade ChemBombs in Maryland 2008


On July 2011, in Stamford, Connecticut, two city high school students face felony charges after setting off two small homemade bombs containing household chemicals on a friday morning at Westhill High School. A Westhill employee told police he would seek medical attention after inhaling fumes from one of the exploded devices, which were set off in trash bins. No other injuries were reported.

The bombs, contained in plastic bottles, produced loud explosions around 9:45 a.m. in two cafeterias at the Roxbury Road high school, said Stamford Police Sgt. Joseph Kennedy. The noise from the device caused "sheer panic" in the cafeteria, where a school resource police officer was posted.

The devices did not cause a fire, but one trash bin began smoking in the Raynor cafeteria, Kennedy said. An unidentified teacher or administrator went to the trash bin and inhaled chemical fumes and planned to seek medical attention. The exact contents of the homemade chemical bombs were unknown, but Kennedy said the two students filled plastic bottles with household cleaning solutions and mixed them with aluminum foil to cause a chemical reaction. The chemical reaction generate enough overpressure to cause the plastic containers to explode and release chemical liquid and vapors nearby.

Police officers and school administrators used surveillance video footage to identify the two 16-year-olds who set off the devices. They were arrested about 45 minutes after the explosions, Kennedy said. The students were charged with felony counts of second-degree assault, risk of injury to a minor, first-degree reckless endangerment and manufacturing bombs. They are being held at the juvenile detention facility at Bridgeport. Their names are being withheld because they are juveniles.

Kennedy said it is unclear whether the 16-year-olds were involved in a Wednesday incident at Westhill in which students threw water balloons filled with bleach at each other. School officials wouldn't disclose how the students will be disciplined. "Unfortunately, student privacy laws don't allow me to share the specific details of the disciplinary actions that will be taken," said Sarah Arnold, a spokeswoman for the district. "But the administration is going to pursue the maximum penalties."

According to the district's student behavior policy, students in possession of "explosive materials in school, or ignition of any flammable material in school" can be considered for removal from class, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension and expulsion. Shannon O'Connor, a 16-year-old junior at Westhill, said she was sitting in the cafeteria several feet from the trash bin when one of the teens threw the small homemade device into it. The loud explosion startled everyone in the cafeteria, but the panic quickly subsided. "Everyone just screamed and jumped," she said Friday afternoon. "It scared me and I wasn't even near it."

Points for Consideration:
  • It is a fact of life that teenagers left unsupervised and armed with a little information will try or experiment with chemicals and incendiary devices creating dangerous situations. The phrase " is all fun and games until someone loses an eye!" becomes deadly serious when kids can be injured. Many things that start out as a prank or something that seems cool turn out deadly and legally serious for the adolescent participants.
  • Taken to a nefarious extreme, the Columbine incident was planned as a large two phased bombing attack to be followed by a shooting spree to kill the remaining survivors. Bombs (in duffel bags) were placed in the cafeteria during the busiest lunch period, but failed to detonate.
  • Google search how to make a homemade device and you will be taken to YouTube where you can watch short films that will show you how. What is more disconcerting is to watch those short films made by kids who are demonstrating how to do this or that and even the film footage is an accident waiting to happen. Young kids playing with mixing interactive chemicals without any idea of the danger at close range.
  • Parents / Guardians, Teachers, and students need to be tuned to that special frequency that if they "see something or hear something, they need to say something" to an authority figure so immediate action can be taken.
  • The proper placement of cameras can be invaluable in finding out who was involved in an incident and what actually occurred.
  • The reaction of students, school workers, and faculty to an explosion is often overlooked to include the unintended response (heart attack, anxiety attack, asthma attack, etc.) can turn a prank into a more serious affair (serious injury or death).


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