Boy accused in school bomb plot could spend life in prison

By Lee Higgins and Ishael Tate

McClatchy Newspapers

CHESTERFIELD, S.C. — Authorities have charged Ryan Schallenberger, the Chesterfield County teen accused of plotting to blow up his high school, with three federal offenses — two dealing with explosives — acting U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said Tuesday.

If convicted, the 18-year-old straight-A student could spend the rest of his life in prison, McDonald said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas E. Rogers III issued a criminal complaint charging Schallenberger with:


—Attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against a person or property within the United States

—Attempting to damage and destroy by means of explosive any building and real property getting federal funds

—Knowingly receiving in interstate commerce an explosive with knowledge or intent that it will be used to kill, injure or intimidate individuals, as well as unlawfully damage and destroy any real or personal property

Police say that over the past year the senior, who was due to graduate in less than two months, planned to bomb the school. His parents called police Saturday when they intercepted a delivery of ammonium nitrate — a fertilizer that, when combined with diesel fuel, can be used to make a bomb.

Investigators later found a yearlong journal Schallenberger had kept and DVDs of two of the most tragic days in American history — the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building and the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.

Schallenberger had "approximately 20 pounds of ammonium nitrate" his parents turned over to law enforcement, as well as papers and an audiotape from his room, the federal complaint says.

According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, signed by Special Agent Alan Craig Townsend of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives:

—Two days before his stepfather, John Sittley, called law enforcement to turn Schallenberger in, he and Schallenberger’s mother, Laurie Sittley, kicked Schallenberger out of their house for "violent and inappropriate conduct."


—In a subsequent search of the family home, officers seized Schallenberger’s diary and other documents detailing a "yearlong plot to make and test explosive devices and a plan to carry out the attack referenced in the tape."

—"Law enforcement believes that Ryan had all of the necessary materials and intent to carry out his plan."

—After waiving his Miranda rights, Schallenberger "admitted to law enforcement that he had already made two to four pipe bombs."

Schallenberger appeared briefly before Rogers on Tuesday afternoon, was advised of the charges and waived a preliminary hearing and detention hearing. A public defender was appointed for him.

He is in federal custody, being detained without bond, McDonald said. "Our office, at the appropriate time, will seek an indictment."

Schallenberger was served the federal complaint at a brief state bond hearing in Chesterfield earlier in the afternoon, after which federal authorities took him to U.S. District Court in Florence.

In the state hearing, Schallenberger’s court-appointed attorney, William O. Spencer Jr., did not ask a state judge to set bond.

Spencer said he didn’t believe his client needed a mental evaluation — something state prosecutors had said they would seek but did not do at the hearing.


"I’m convinced he does not need to be evaluated," Spencer said. "I believe he is competent. He understands the nature of the offenses, and he can assist with his defense."

Schallenberger’s mother and stepfather sat behind him in the courtroom Tuesday in Chesterfield, John Sittley shielding their faces from the media with a white envelope.

They have not commented publicly and rushed from the courtroom after the hearing, but authorities have described them as heartbroken over the arrest. Their phone number is unlisted, and their home, off a dirt road about 10 miles from the school, has "No Trespassing" signs posted.

About 30 high school students also sat quietly in the courtroom during the hearing.

The FBI is working to identify who sold Schallenberger the ammonium nitrate. Asked whether any additional arrests are possible, McDonald said, "We consider this an open investigation."

Investigators in Chesterfield County contacted the FBI and the ATF on Monday at about the same time the U.S. attorney’s office contacted local prosecutors, McDonald said.

Schallenberger still faces state charges of making bomb threats, a felony punishable by one to 10 years in prison, and possession of explosive materials, a felony punishable by two to 15 years in prison.

Solicitor Jay Hodge said the state plans to drop the bomb threat charge because it’s not appropriate for the actual offense.


Because Schallenberger is in federal custody, authorities won’t disclose where he is being held.

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