Four California students face charges in pipe bomb explosion

Apr. 29--HANFORD -- Two more Hanford High School students were arrested Monday in connection with last week's campus pipe bomb explosion.

The latest arrests bring the number of suspects arrested to four in an incident in which no one was hurt but one law enforcement official said could have serious consequences for the students, including jail time. Felony charges have been filed.

A 6- to 8-inch pipe bomb exploded at 12:15 p.m. Thursday, scattering debris over a large area inside a fenced location near the school's automotive shop.

Local authorities are not taking the incident lightly at a time of heightened national concern over terrorism and domestic school shootings. The case even caught the attention of federal law enforcement officials.

The explosion forced the school into a three-hour lockdown Thursday, and the blast was strong enough to seriously injure someone, Hanford Police Chief Carlos Mestas said.

The first two suspects in the case -- boys ages 15 and 16 -- were arrested Friday at a home on High and Douty streets just several hundred feet from the school. Hanford police Lt. Greg Freiner said the suspects are not related.

Hanford police said they found additional bomb-making materials at the home Friday in a search that included help from the Visalia Police Department Bomb Disposal Unit.

On Monday morning, a 16-year-old male student was arrested after police made contact with him at the school, Mestas said. Later in the day, a 17-year-old student was brought to police by his parents after they were informed that he did not attend class, Mestas said.

Mestas said no additional arrests in the case are expected. Police are not identifying the students because they are juveniles.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisted in the investigation, but it is unlikely they will face any federal charges, Freiner said.

Freiner said federal charges are typically brought if people are injured during an incident or if the plot was part of a larger-scale terrorist conspiracy. Mestas said it appears the suspects didn't intend to hurt anyone because the bomb was detonated in an area where there were no people.

But, Mestas said, "Who's to say this wasn't a test?" He would not comment on possible motives.

Felony charges facing the students include conspiracy to use an explosive device in an act of terrorism and possessing, manufacturing, transporting and detonating an explosive device.

Mestas said he didn't know what penalties the student could face because they are juveniles but said "they could face some time" in jail.

The suspects are awaiting arraignment at the Kings County Juvenile Center.

Depending on the outcome of their criminal charges, the students could be expelled, said Candace McIlroy, a spokeswoman for the Hanford Joint Union High School District.

She said the punishment could range from after-school suspension to expulsion, depending on each student's level of involvement in the incident.

As officers continued to investigate Monday, students said school has returned to normal for the most part.

Ashley Engbrecht, 15, said she feels safe at school but is still shocked that students were arrested in connection with the pipe-bomb explosion. She said she wanted to know their motive, especially as the country has been more vigilant about national security after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"We've had a lot of fights and stuff, but nothing like people setting off bombs or bringing bombs to school," she said Monday during lunch break at a shopping area near the school.

Her friend, Brittani Todd, 17, characterized the actions of her fellow students as "just immature."

This is the first incident of its kind for the school district, and possibly for Kings County schools, McIlroy said.

"In recent years, school districts have become more aware of our vulnerabilities," she said. "The schools have an additional role to play and it's no longer just about reading and writing and arithmetic anymore. Schools have to take responsibility for the students in our care."

Copyright (c) 2008, The Fresno Bee, Calif. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.