ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Friday upheld the conviction of a Prince George’s County teen who served as a lookout while his friend placed a bomb at Bowie High School in early 1997.
The court rejected arguments that the youth, identified only as James M., was not an active participant in the crime and that testimony from a parade of classmates was not enough to convict him.
The Feb. 7 bomb incident was the second in two weeks at Bowie and one in a rash of bombs and bomb threats that plagued Prince George’s County during the 1996-97 school year.
“We had in the range of 130 bombing incidents, the majority of them in high schools,” said county schools spokeswoman Susan Hubbard.
Police were first called to Bowie for a bomb on Jan. 21, 1997, when a homemade device of aerosol cans, wires and batteries was found in a boys’ bathroom. A police robot brought in to destroy the device with a blast of water set off a fireball that police said lasted 35 to 40 seconds.
On Feb. 7, a student found a similar device in a school stairwell. Police were called in again and, after disabling it, determined it to be a functioning bomb.
Students told investigators that while many rumors were circulating in the school about the bombings, most of them centered around James and another student, identified in court documents only as William M.
Freshman Shawnell Coleman testified that the day before the second bomb was found, a group of students in her fourth-period Earth Science class were talking about the first bombing. William told classmates that “we did it … ask James,” who Shawnell said then admitted to taking part in the first bombing.
She said two other students then dared William to place another bomb.
At least five other students said they heard James and William mentioned as culprits in the bombing. A vice principal also testified that when he asked to look in James’ locker on the day of the second incident, the youth appeared to be very nervous.
In a statement to Prince George’s Police Detective Carl Milligan after the second incident, James said William “came with a book bag and showed me and his friends the bomb, and I saw him put the bomb on the ground. Then I went to class.”
He said William asked him to keep a lookout. He stressed on appeal, however, that he never said he acted as a lookout for William.
James was convicted in juvenile court of committing delinquent acts of reckless endangerment, disturbing and preventing the orderly conduct of activities at Bowie High, and several counts of conspiracy.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court rejected James’ claim that he was not involved, noting that he lingered in the hallway as the second bomb was placed and “did, in fact, serve as a lookout.”
County prosecutors were pleased by the ruling.
“After this opinion, students should realize that when it comes to school bomb threats, if they know what’s going on and participate in any way, they’ll be viewed and treated as an active participant,” said Paula Burr, a spokeswoman for the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Jack Johnson.
Besides disrupting school, she said, bomb threats cost taxpayers and jeopardize safety.
“Contrary to what some believe, they’re no laughing matter,” said Burr, adding that Johnson would continue to aggressively prosecute bomb and bomb threat cases in schools.