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U.S. Charges Student in Southwest Airlines Case

Aired October 20, 2003 - 15:25   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now, live to Baltimore, as the Feds charge that college student in the airplane box cutter case. Let's listen in.
THOMAS DIBAGIO, U.S. ATTORNEY, MARYLAND: ... six Southwest Airlines flights in February, April and September of this year. On Thursday, October 16, 2003, as a result of a repair request, three plastic Ziploc bags containing an anonymous note, three box cutters with blades, a small container of liquid bleach, molding clay and matches were found hidden in an access panel under the sink in the rear lavatory of a Southwest Airlines Flight 474 at the time the plane was in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The note accompanying the weapons stated that the items had been taken through a security checkpoint in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina Airport and placed on board the aircraft designated as Flight 993 on September 12, 2003. Flight 993 was a flight from Raleigh- Durham, North Carolina to BWI Airport in Maryland.

On the same day that the items were found in New Orleans, a routine maintenance check of a rear lavatory of a Southwest Airlines Flight 578 aircraft found a similar package containing an anonymous note, three box cutters with blades, a small container of liquid bleach, molding clay and matches. The note stated that the items had been taken through a security checkpoint at Baltimore-Washington Airport and placed on board the aircraft as Flight 613 on September 14, 2003. At the time, this aircraft was in Houston, Texas.

Flight 613 was a flight from BWI to Raleigh, North Carolina. The two notes found were identical and were signed "Sincerely 3891925." This number was later found to be the defendant's birthday in reverse order.

Further investigation discovered that on September 15, 2003, the defendant sent an email message to the TSA contact center, admitting that he had carried weapons on board aircraft on his person and some in his carry-on luggage on six occasions. The defendant stated that he did this on six occasions at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport and the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, beginning on February 7, 2003 and ending on September 14, 2003.

The defendant identified the following six flights. On February 7, 2003, Southwest Airlines Flight 1685 from Raleigh-Durham to BWI. On February 9th, 2003, Southwest Airlines Flight 161 from Baltimore to Raleigh-Durham. On April 11, 2003, Flight 993 from Raleigh-Durham to BWI in Baltimore. April 13, 2003, Southwest Airlines flight 161 from Baltimore- Washington International Airport to Raleigh-Durham. On September 12, 2003, Southwest Airlines Flight 999, from Raleigh-Durham to BWI. And on September 14, 2003, Southwest Airlines Flight from BWI to Raleigh- Durham.

Also in his email, the defendant admitted that he carried weapons on all six occasions and left packages on four of the six flights. On April 14, 2003, a similar weapons package was found on a Southwest Airlines plane while it was in Tampa, Florida. On April 13, 2003, a similar weapons package was found on a Southwest Airlines plane in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Accordingly, all of the items placed by the defendant on the four planes have been recovered by federal investigators.

On October 17, 2003, the defendant was interviewed by the FBI. He was interviewed at his place of residence, his home in Tacoma Park, Maryland. And during the interview, he gave a detailed statement of all his conduct and admitted to what he had done.

At this time, Special Agent Gary Bald has a few comments to make.

GARY BALD, FBI: Thanks, Tom. Good afternoon.

On Friday, October 17, 2003, the FBI received information that some items, to include a box cutter-type knife, had been located onboard a Southwest Airlines flight. Our FBI headquarters notified all 56 field offices to ensure that this was given its highest priority in a conference call that took place Friday morning.

As my response here in Maryland, I immediately dispatched members of our Maryland Joint Terrorism Task Force to Baltimore/Washington International Airport to participate in the search of aircraft and to participate in that search with the Department of homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration and to secure any evidence that came out of those searches.

Later on Friday, Joint Terrorism Task Force investigators identified and located an individual in Maryland that was believed to be responsible for this incident. Since this matter's an ongoing investigation, I won't discuss specifics of the case, but...

PHILLIPS: The FBI briefing reporters now live from Baltimore. He's talking about 20-year-old Nathaniel Heatwole, the college student from Damascus, Maryland. Just refreshing reporters about what is next for this young boy who admitted to carrying items, box cutters and other various items that could be used to make a bomb on to an aircraft.

You'll remember last Friday two Southwest Airlines finding these items. He has now admitting to doing it six times, bringing items through security, leaving four sets of these materials on various aircraft. He's being charged with carrying concealed weapons on an aircraft. We'll continue to follow the story and the fate of Nathaniel Heatwole.


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