published Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Student charged in Utah school bomb plot

By PAUL FOY and JENNIFER DOBNER

Associated Press

ROY, Utah — The two teens had a detailed plot, blueprints of the school and security systems, but no explosives. They had hours of flight simulator training on a home computer and a plan to flee the country, but no plane.

Still, the police chief in this small Utah town said, the plot was real.

“It wasn’t like they were hanging out playing video games,” Roy Police Chief Gregory Whinham said Friday. “They put a lot of effort into it.”

Dallin Morgan, 18, and a 16-year-old friend were arrested Wednesday at Roy High School, about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, after a fellow student reported that she received ominous text messages from one of the suspects.

“If I tell you one day not to go to school, make damn sure you and your brother are not there,” one message read, according to court records. “We ain’t gonna crash it, we’re just gonna kill and fly our way to a country that won’t send us back to the U.S.,” read another message.

While police don’t have a motive, one text message noted they sought “revenge on the world.”

The suspects say they were inspired by the deadly 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo., and the younger suspect even visited the school last month to interview the principal about the shootings and security measures.

However, one suspect told authorities it was offensive to be compared to the Columbine shooters because “those killers only completed 1 percent of their plan,” according to a probable cause statement.

The teens had so studied their own school’s security system that they knew how to avoid being seen on the facility’s surveillance cameras, authorities said.

Whinham said the “very smart kids” had spent at least hundreds of dollars on flight simulator programs, books and manuals, studying them in anticipation of carrying out their plan to bomb an assembly at the 1,500-student high school.

While authorities said the suspects believed they could pull it off, experts said, it would have been a long shot.

Royal Eccles, manager at the Ogden-Hinckley Airport, about a mile from the school, said it would have been nearly impossible for the students to steal a plane or get the knowledge to fly one using flight simulator programs.

“It’s highly improbable,” Eccles said. “That’s how naive these kids are.”

Whinham said authorities searched two homes and two cars and found no explosives, but added that police continue to search other locations. The chief said it appeared that “a key component of their plan was not developed.”

“I wouldn’t want to say that they don’t have it or that they weren’t ready for it,” he said. “I’m just saying that we haven’t found anything that says they were ready for it yet.”

Whinham said it appeared the suspects, who have no criminal history, also had prepared alternate attack plans, but he declined to elaborate. He also declined to say whether any firearms were found during their searches.

“Most houses have firearms in them,” he said. “This is the state of Utah.”

While authorities have said they have not found any explosives, they charged Morgan on Friday with possession of a weapon of mass destruction.

The basis for the charge wasn’t immediately clear, though one of the elements of that offense is conspiracy to use a weapon, not necessarily possessing one. Prosecutors say they are considering additional charges.

Morgan has been released on bond, pending a court hearing Wednesday. The 16-year-old, whom The Associated Press isn’t naming because he’s a minor, remained held pending further court hearings.

Whinham said he knew both suspects personally, given the small size of the suburban Utah town of roughly 36,000 people. He said he had met with both of the suspects’ parents and they were “devastated.”

The 16-year-old suspect’s father declined comment Friday, and no one answered the door at Morgan’s home.

The plot “was months in planning,” said Whinham, who also noted Morgan told investigators the 16-year-old had previously made a pipe bomb using gun powder and rocket fuel.

In Colorado, Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis confirmed Friday he met with the 16-year-old suspect on Dec. 12 after the teenager told him he was doing a story for his school newspaper on the shootings.

DeAngelis said he frequently gets requests from students doing research on the shootings, and the request from this one wasn’t unusual.

“He asked the same questions I get from many callers and visitors asking about the shooting,” DeAngelis said. He said the student wanted details about the shooting, the aftermath and the steps taken since then to protect the school.

Police said the student told them Roy school officials would not allow him to write the story.

DeAngelis said he was shocked when he got a call from Utah police on Wednesday asking if he had met with the youth. He said the interview raised no red flags but that he would do things differently with future requests.

“This was definitely a wake-up call. This is the first time this has happened,” DeAngelis said.

Police credit the suspects’ schoolmate with helping foil their plan, though Whinham said the school didn’t have any assemblies set, and the suspects revealed no specific dates to pull off the attack.

Sophomore Bailey Gerhardt told The Salt Lake Tribune she received alarming text messages from one of the suspects and alerted school administrators.

“I get the feeling you know what I’m planning,” read one of the messages, according to court records. “Explosives, airport, airplane.”

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Associated Press writer Steven K. Paulson in Denver contributed to this report.

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