An 18-year-old accused of planning to bomb his high school will be charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a possible life sentence, the top federal prosecutor in South Carolina said Tuesday.
Ryan Schallenberger also will face two lesser federal charges stemming from what authorities say was a scheme to detonate explosives in a suicide attack on his high school in the small town of Chesterfield. The straight-A student will be charged in federal court in Florence on Tuesday afternoon, said Kevin McDonald, the acting U.S. attorney for South Carolina.
McDonald said the federal charge comes into play mostly because Schallenberger ordered materials that can be used for bombs through the mail.
William Spencer, the teen's court-appointed attorney, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Schallenberger was arrested on state charges Saturday. Authorities say his parents called police because he had ordered 10 pounds of ammonium nitrate, which they retrieved after getting a delivery notice from the postal service. Ammonium nitrate is a fertilizer that was a component in the deadly 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Bombs easily made within minutes
Authorities have said Schallenberger could have assembled deadly bombs within minutes with the materials they found. Police said they also discovered bombing plans including a hand-drawn map of the school, a hate-filled journal lauding the Columbine killers and an audiotape that authorities say was to have been played after Schallenberger died.
Schallenberger has been charged by the state with making a bomb threat, and county prosecutor Jay Hodge planned Tuesday to charge him with possession of bomb-making materials.
Schallenberger was to appear in a Chesterfield courtroom Tuesday afternoon for a bond hearing during which state prosecutors said they planned to request that he undergo a mental evaluation. He was to be taken to federal court later in the day.
McDonald said the federal charges will be resolved before the state case.
Authorities said Schallenberger's journal did not specify targets of an attack, or a date that he planned to carry it out. Police Chief Randall Lear said Schallenberger was "just mad at the world."
Parents are 'heartbroken'
Schallenberger's mother and stepfather, Laurie and John Sittley, are "heartbroken," according to Sheriff Sam Parker.
"They were very concerned about his future education. I kind of explained to them and told them we've got to deal with two options here, we've got to deal with his education or with his life," Parker told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday.
The Sittleys have not commented publicly on the case. Their phone number is unlisted, they did not attend a court hearing Monday, and their home about 10 miles from the school was blocked by "No Trespassing" signs later that day. Authorities said Schallenberger has eight siblings and step-siblings.
McDonald said Schallenberger will be charged with federal counts of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to use explosives on a building that gets federal funding, and using interstate commerce to obtain explosives to be used against people and property.
Authorities have said Schallenberger bought the ammonium nitrate off eBay and that company said it's cooperating in the investigation.
Chesterfield is a town of about 1,500 people in northeastern South Carolina near the North Carolina line.