More on the Cole Field Three.

Three freshmen at Williams College out to shock the school face felony charges for reportedly attempting to detonate a homemade bomb on campus less than a day before the massacre at Virginia Tech.

A dean at the prestigious western Massachusetts college alerted parents yesterday in an e-mail lamenting the bomb scare. Police said if the explosive device had worked early Sunday, the campus would have been rocked.

“At this particularly sensitive time, I thought I’d take the risk of over-reporting,” Dean Nancy Roseman wrote in a stern e-mail obtained by the Herald. “We all long for the time when such things don’t jangle our nerves quite so much,” she added in the missive sent home to parents. Williamstown police Sgt. Scott McGowen told the Herald the three 19-year-old males each face charges of possession of an infernal machine – a felony – and disorderly conduct. The names of the three students will not be made public until Monday, McGowen added.

Police were called at 12:42 a.m. Sunday to a practice field at the bucolic campus, where they spotted the explosive device, McGowen said. “They failed to detonate it, thankfully,” McGowen said, adding that if the bomb had gone off it would have resulted in a loud explosion but probably no injuries. An investigation assisted by state police and FBI led to the charges against the three freshmen, who face “sanctions” from the college, the dean said.

Comments:

1) The Herald has a copy of the e-mail and we don’t?! Could a parent reader please post it in the comments? UPDATE: See comments. Thanks!

2) The intent of the students was to “shock the school.” Interesting. Our previous discussion assumed that this was more of a (drunked?) lark than an attempt to create discussion on campus. Note the difference between this description and the previous claim that their “intent was not to cause damage or injury but to pursue their curiosity about such a device.”

3) Doesn’t this raise a whole host of interesting legal questions? I think so! Assume that the students (or at least one of them) had some sort of political intent. They wanted to “shock the school.” (I am not sure how, but leave that to one side.) Isn’t political speech protected? Even speech involving fire? If the students had decided, instead, to burn an American flag (or a copy of Mein Kampf or whatever) then there would be no punishment from the police or the college. Now, obviously, if you burn a flag in a dangerous fashion (in the middle of a crowd), then you may be liable for endangerment. But it seems (?) like the students took every (most?) reasonable safety precautions. Lawyer opinions sought!

4) We need someone to provide some relevant Massachusetts case law on infernal machines. If the Williams Rocket Club can launch from Cole Field (presumably without checking with the Williamstown police) then why can’t these students set off a bomb? (The College might still have grounds to act against them and not the rocket club since the latter (I assume) seeks permission.

Berkshire Eagle
coverage below.)

Three 19-year-old Williams College students are facing felony charges after being connected to an explosive device found on Cole Field by campus security early Sunday morning, local police announced yesterday.

Williamstown Police officials are not identifying the three suspects because they have not yet been formally charged, although charges of possession of an infernal machine, a felony, and disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, are expected to be filed against the trio by Monday, said Detective Sgt. Scott McGowan.

“Without a doubt, at no time was any student, anyone associated with the college, or any town resident in danger,” he said. “All evidence points to a prank, not domestic terrorism.”

McGowan said all three suspects have been cooperating throughout the investigation.

“Our evidence shows they were trying to pull a prank without giving any thought to what the consequences could be,” he said. “I don’t believe they understood the overall danger, not having been trained to handle these materials. I do believe they are very well aware of just how serious the situation could have been now.”

McGowan described the device as a
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“powerful explosive.” He declined to reveal the nature of the device or of where the students learned how to assemble it. He did say they purchased the materials at a local store, which enabled investigators to identify one of the suspects, with the assistance of the FBI. Through further investigation of the first suspect, police identified the other two.

McGowan said campus security notified police of a suspicious device at the field at about 12:52 a.m. Sunday. Police and campus security approached the device, quickly determined it was not a danger, and police brought it to the station for further examination.

A press statement from Williamstown Police Chief Kyle J. Johnson noted that the device “had been ignited, but failed to burn.”

The statement also said that the “intent was not to cause damage, but to pursue their curiosity about such a device.”

McGowan noted that if the device had detonated, there were no buildings or other college structures close enough to have been damaged.

The possession of an infernal machine charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in state prison. The misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. There is no minimum penalty limit for either charge, McGowan said.

James Kolesar, spokesman for Williams College, said that school officials are investigating the incident, and that any possible sanctions of the students would remain confidential. Sanctions could range from a verbal warning to expulsion. He also noted that a 19-year-old student is typically a freshman.

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