A Good Student's 'Unexpected' Bomb Plot

Ryan Schallenberger's plot was thwarted when his parents called the police.


April 21, 2008— -- A South Carolina teenager arrested for plotting to bomb his school had designs for an arsenal of explosives including a nail bomb that would have "devastated" students in a crowded hallway, a local police chief said today.

Ryan Schallenberger, 18, called his plot "Columbine III" and laid out details in a "bomb summary" that described the different types of explosives he would use in the suicide attack. He even recorded his expenses.

"I think he was more concerned about a high body count than killing anyone in particular," Chesterfield Police Chief Randall Lear told ABC News.

Schallenberger's "summary" contained details for a nail bomb.

"Inside a school, with confined concrete walls, just a little bit of nails, nuts and bolts, ball bearings and some of these explosives devices, it would devastate the student body," Lear said.

Authorities arrested Schallenberger on Saturday after a package arrived at his family's rural South Carolina home and his parents opened it to find 10 pounds of ammonium nitrate, a substance that can be used as an explosive when combined with diesel fuel or another accelerant.

The teen's parents called the police, and officers recovered the explosives material and found details of the high school senior's plot. Schallenberger, who was not at home at the time, was picked up along a dirt road near his house.

No guns or other weapons were found in the house.

"I can honestly tell you, were I faced with that scenario, I don't know if I could have made that decision," Lear said. "I don't know whether I would have been brave enough to do what these parents did."

Schallenberger, who had recently won a partial scholarship to college, said nothing and appeared agitated during a brief court appearance today, in which he was assigned a lawyer. The county prosecutor said he will ask that Schallenberger undergo a mental health evaluation.

The bomb summary found in the suspect's bedroom laid out a map of the school, the different types of explosives that would be used in the attack and specific materials needed for each.

While there was no date provided for the bombing, Lear said that with the shipment of ammonium nitrate, he had all the materials he would need to carry out the attack at his fingertips.

"This was a legitimate threat," Lear said. "Once that package was in, he had what he needed to formulate these explosives devices."

Authorities also discovered items that expressed Schallenberger's "respect" for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Lear said, including a CD that featured "every available source of reporting" on the April 20, 1999 school massacre. Like those student gunmen, Schallenberger planned to die during his attack.

"From his diaries, I would characterize it as he was going to kill until he was killed," Lear said.

Schallenberger's respect for the Columbine plotters was so intense, Lear said, that he would not copy their plan detail for detail. The Columbine attack, in which 13 people were killed, occurred nine years ago Sunday.

There was an audio recording that was to be played after Schallenberger's suicide attack. Lear would say little about the content of the recording except that it was a goodbye and an explanation of his attack on the school.

The posthumous message is not unlike the missive Seung-Hui Cho's mailed to NBC the morning of his massacre at Virginia Tech, a suicidal school rampage that claimed 33 lives and whose one-year anniversary was marked last week. Lear said that investigators found no immediate connections to Virginia Tech, but suggested that Schallenberger may have referred to his plot as "Columbine III" because he considered Cho's attack "Columbine II."

What was clear from Schallenberger's diaries and the recording, Lear said, was that Schallenberger had a problem with some of his more popular peers.

"In one of his rants, he was going on about undeserving people," Lear said, describing a possible motivation for the planned attack. "It was something like, 'You've got all these rich guys that think they're better than everyone else, and they get all the hot girlfriends, and they don't deserve the hot girlfriends.'"

Only a quarter of the students showed up for school Monday at Chesterfield High School, where Schallenberger was a veteran of the high school academic bowl team. Security was increased, with metal detectors from the county courthouse and bomb-sniffing dogs.

"My statement to parents was, 'You do what you feel like is best for your child,'" Scott Radkin, Chesterfield High School principal, told ABC News this morning, following the arrest of a student he knew more as an academic star than as a troublemaker bent on a school attack.

"It's not something we would expect here. We have a pretty quiet community," Radkin told ABC News. "It's unexpected out of this student."

Ammonium nitrate was the same explosive used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 that killed 168 people — a crime that took place April 19, the same date as Schallenberger's arrest. Like the date of the Columbine attack, it's unclear whether the Oklahoma City bombing in any way motivated Schallenberger's foiled plot.

Kevin Barry, a former member of the New York City Police Department bomb squad and an explosives expert, said that explosives fashioned with ammonium nitrate can be devastating and that the explosive is popular because it is cheap and can be detonated simply.

"What you have is fragmentation," Barry said, calling Schallenberger's plot potentially fatal. "As it explodes out, it's going to reflect off what it hits first," gaining speed after detonation and sending deadly debris in several directions, he said.

Ammonium nitrate is also widely available and is used both in commercial explosives and for fertilizing. The explosives used in Oklahoma City weighed thousands of pounds and included ammonium nitrate fertilizer and diesel fuel.

Attempts by ABC News to locate Schallenberger's parents were unsuccessful.

Radkin would say little about Schallenberger as a student except that it was a surprise that he would hatch such a plot. Like the police chief, Lear praised the Schallenberger family for having the courage to notify the police.

"I'm very proud of the parents," Radkin said. "I'm sure that was a very hard thing to do. I'm glad they did it, because hopefully now he can get the help he needs."

Chesterfield High School serves about 580 students in Chesterfield County, S.C., near the North Carolina border. Schallenberger is from Mount Croghan, one of eight towns in the county, with a population of just 125 residents.

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