4 charged in 'prank' explosions at college

Four Newberry College students face a state felony charge of possessing and manufacturing a destructive device in connection with this week's campus disturbances, police said Thursday.

The charge carries a minimum of two years and a maximum of 15 years in prison.

Three homemade bombs exploded over a 12-hour period late Tuesday and Wednesday morning inside and just outside the college's 293-student freshman dorm, Brokaw Hall. There were no injuries. There was some minor damage to a carpet.

Newberry city Police Chief Jackie Swindler identified the four suspects as:

- Steven Lamar Bell, 19, Gracewood Drive, Columbia

- Christopher Lindsay Hopkins, 18, 806 Thelma Gladney Road, Winnsboro

- Brandon Jarrod King, 20, 200 Ringwood Lane, Elgin

- Jordan Alexander Belton, 18, 4242 S.C. 34 East, Ridgeway

Bell also faces a charge of simple possession of marijuana.

The bombs were homemade devices whose explosive power came from chemical cleaning agents and other materials, such as aluminum foil, that anyone could buy over the counter, Swindler said.

"It was household chemicals that you put in a 16-ounce, 20-ounce plastic drink bottle, and then they have a chemical reaction when they built up pressure," Swindler said.

"Over-pressure bombs is what they are called - also MacGyver bombs and Drano bombs."

"They explode when they build up the pressure," he said.

Police are not seeking any additional suspects, Swindler said.

The four who were charged were taken to the Newberry County jail. Bell and Belton were released on bond. Hopkins and King were still in jail as of Thursday evening.

Top officials at Newberry College, where tuition is some $31,000 a year, were apparently keeping a low profile Thursday.

Neither college president Mitchell Zais nor vice president Chuck Wendt could be reached to discuss the college's security procedures or to say whether the bomb suspects will be allowed to continue classes.

Since 9/11, and the mass shootings at Virginia Tech, many colleges have revamped security procedures so students can be notified immediately - by cell phone, e-mail or even campus loudspeakers - of security threats.

Swindler said the felony charges against the four students underscore how seriously law enforcement is treating anyone who sets off bombs on a college campus.

"Since 9/11, you pay close attention to those kinds of incidents," Swindler said.

"If you want to call it a prank, it may be called that, but it's certainly not advisable in these days and times," Swindler said. "You don't want to play with anything like this."

More than 50 state, local and federal law officers - along with a SLED bomb squad - stormed the campus late Wednesday morning after the third bomb detonated. Newberry city firefighters rushed to the scene. They evacuated and searched Brokaw Hall and sealed off part of the campus.

The first bomb exploded about 11:30 Tuesday night outside Brokaw Hall. The second bomb went off shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday in the Brokaw lobby.

Swindler said city police were not summoned to the scene until about 11:30 a.m. the next morning, when a third bomb went off inside Brokaw.

Some 1,080 young people attend college on the 90-acre, normally quiet campus.