May 3, 2009

Teen's Hatred for Counselor Motivated Bomb Plot

SILVER SPRING, Md. - One of the two students accused of plotting to blow up Springbrook High School and kill two school workers was driven by an intense hatred for one of the alleged targets, a guidance counselor, a prosecutor argued at the students' court appearance Thursday.

Police and prosecutors allege 18-year-old Yonata Getachew hated the female guidance counselor for an unspecified reason and the school's principal for siding with the counselor. They say Getachew and 17-year-old Anthony Torrence planned to blow up the school by breaking gas lines and tossing in homemade bombs.

Both students appeared in court Thursday, charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, arson and reckless endangerment. The judge ordered both to be held without bond.

According to the charging documents, the students planned to attack the guidance counselor with a bag full of rocks and nails. They then allegedly planned to throw a bomb into Principal Mike Durso's office. Durso was back at work Thursday, admitting he was somewhat unsettled by the alleged plot.

"This job sometimes can be very challenging and very rewarding," Durso said. "Yesterday was probably more of the challenging part."

Police say the plot was uncovered when School Security Officer Rodney Barnes, who is assigned to the school, spotted Torrence out of class on Tuesday and questioned him about a fire in the building.

"I believe that had this thing occurred that I would say this probably would have been the big one," Ofc. Barnes said Thursday. "To talk about the gas line, the way they were testing the gas line, [it] genuinely would have blown up in their face."

According to Officer Barnes, Torrence said, "'I don't want to be in trouble, but I think I'm involved in something you need to know about.' He just began to tell the whole story."

"And as he's explaining it to me, and he has lighter fluid with him and all those things, and the kid is really just baring his soul to me," Barnes said.

The student admitted to Barnes that he was searching for a gas line in the school. When the officer asked him to open up his book bag, there were ten cans of lighter fluid and matches inside.

A search of the students' homes followed that confession, and police found materials, chemicals and a detailed plan to harm the principal and a school counselor with a bomb.

Torrence's mother, Andrea, denied her son was involved in the plot, saying Wednesday the search of her home had turned up nothing.

After the hearing Thursday she again denied his involvement.

"Not my son," she said. "He wouldn't hurt a soul."

Family for both teens say the police have it wrong.

"He's our baby, he's our boy," said Mesfin Belaw, Getachew's uncle. "He's obedient, very caring for his mother."

Principal Durso says he saw no signs of trouble brewing.

"I guess I wish that maybe there were some clues along the way, to intervene before this things happen -- but unfortunately these things happen," he said.

Lawyers for both students said Thursday in court that there was no plot. They said both students were learning disabled and incapable of carrying out such an attack. They also said the alleged gas lines the students were probing were water lines.

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