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Teens Deny Guilt in Alleged Plot to Bomb School

Courts: Preliminary hearing is set for two 18-year-olds, one of them a student. Burbank High tightens security.

April 25, 2001|ZANTO PEABODY and ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BURBANK — Two 18-year-olds accused of plotting to blow up Burbank High School as revenge for verbal torments from other students each pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a single count of attempting to possess explosives.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge will hold a preliminary hearing May 17 to determine if there is enough evidence to try Patrick Longmire, a Burbank High School special education student, and his friend, Christopher Mannino of Van Nuys.

The two are in custody at the Twin Towers jail in downtown Los Angeles and face up to 3 1/2 years in state prison if convicted, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Paul Sergojan.

Longmire and Mannino were arrested Saturday after a parent told police they had tried to convince a third friend to help them make a bomb.

The police found no explosives but said they had enough information to determine there was a credible threat.

School officials tightened security Tuesday on campus, restricting access to the main building to a single doorway. Principal Leslee DeRoos told counselors and teachers to pay more attention to students who seemed dejected, depressed or alone. DeRoos also prepared a letter to send to parents detailing the threat.

Preparing for violence at the normally peaceful high school is a departure for DeRoos, who is in her first year with the district.

For the current crisis, she has drawn on her experience heading off gang violence at her old campus in the Riverside County town of Perris.

"My biggest problem here has been just rumors of what may happen," said DeRoos, adding that each rumor or threat of violence is investigated thoroughly by police and school staff. "But I have been in a district where we had gang violence acted out on campus. I can say this school is much safer than that."

The Burbank Unified School District has a zero tolerance policy for violence, and DeRoos said Longmire will be expelled whether or not he is convicted.

She said Longmire had a history of discipline problems at the school, but she declined to elaborate.

"You can't try to make a judgment on whether you believe they would have carried out the threat," DeRoos said. "In today's culture, you can't take anything lightly."

Family members acknowledged that Longmire had been frustrated by students who teased him about a long-standing medical condition that left him with a limp. His grandparents said he suffers from seizures and cerebral palsy.

Longmire and Mannino were arrested early Saturday after a parent, whose child was a friend of Longmire's, told police she had learned about plans to place a bomb inside the school.

The police said the defendants had known each other about four months and allegedly plotted to blow up the school. The young man who had been asked to make the bomb refused, police said.

However, Mannino's father said his son had nothing to do with the alleged plot and the police should have released the suspects when their search failed to turn up hard evidence.

"As far as I know, these accusations are absolutely false," Sam Mannino said. "My son said he didn't do it, and he has no history of violence."

Longmire's attorney, Darrell Lee Johnson, said he would not comment until he reviewed the evidence.

"If what the police said was true, they had probable cause [to arrest Longmire]," Johnson said. "But I'm maintaining we don't know at this time what exactly was said and what was done until discovery is completed."

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