Top Stories of 2009: Pair Awaiting Trial For Plot on School

WEIRTON – This spring, as their classmates prepare to receive diplomas and toss their graduation caps into the air, two Weir High School seniors likely will be awaiting trial for their roles in an alleged plot to bomb the school.

Police cruisers became a familiar sight at Weir High in late September after police foiled an apparent threat against the school. Mark Mentzer, 19, was arrested on Sept. 23 after students notified authorities of text messages circulating around the school stating “something big is going to happen.” Investigators traced the messages back to Mentzer and obtained a search warrant for the Mentzer’s 153 Clay St. home.

What police reportedly found – weapons, racist writings, components of a potential homemade bomb and what appeared to be a map of Weir High School – prompted them to arrest Mentzer on felony charges of nighttime burglary, making terrorist threats, prohibiting civil rights and possessing explosive materials without a permit. A misdemeanor charge of disrupting a school assembly was later dropped.

When officers took Mentzer into custody, they found a piece of notebook paper in his pocket. Scrawled on the page were passages such as: “if you are reading this it is most likely that I have died” and “it is not a selfish egotistical act I am acting on it isn’t about me or my brothers for we do not matter it is our children – and the children I am worried about if we do not stop what’s (sic) happening we will have no more pride we will all be one giant mix of gods knows what.”

The note was signed, “In loving memory, Mark Mentzer.”

A day later, another 19-year-old senior, Josh Little, was arrested in connection with the threats. He was charged with making terrorist threats and misdemeanor counts of disrupting a school assembly and disorderly conduct.

On Sept. 25, more threats sent via text message sent the Weirton Police Department’s Special Response Team back to Weir High School. Those texts, which indicated the presence of explosives in a specific area of the school, proved to be a hoax. Police arrested a male juvenile at the school that morning who they believed circulated the second round of messages.

“We were able to stop a tragic situation from happening,” Weirton Police Chief Bruce Marshall said that day. “Our guys did a great job.”

While police believed those involved with the threats were in custody, they and school officials took no chances. Classes continued as normal throughout the situation, according to Weir High Principal Martin Hudek. All school activities that weekend – homecoming weekend – saw increased police presence, which sent a clear message: Disrupt school, get arrested.

The incident drew the attention of the Steubenville NAACP President Royal Mayo, who said he felt the allegedly racially motivated episode wasn’t drawing enough attention.

“This is reminiscent of Columbine,” he said, comparing the foiled plot in Weirton to the April 20, 1999, school shooting in Colorado that resulted in 15 deaths, including gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Mayo also drew comparisons to the 2007 Virginia Tech University massacre and the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.

He also claimed bond for the pair – $100,000 for Mentzer and $22,600 for Little – did not fit the crimes alleged, claiming should have been set in excess of $1 million, if at all. Both Mentzer and Little did eventually post bond and remain free as they await indictment and trial.

Mentzer posted bond on Oct. 2, just hours after Circuit Judge Martin Gaughan denied a bond reduction motion. During that hearing Mentzer’s attorney, Fred Risovich, called his client “a very stupid kid who has very stupid ideas” – ideas, he stressed, that are not illegal.

He further argued that the “explosive materials” were household items not intended for any threatening purpose, and the alleged map of the school was completely unrecognizable as such, he said. The so-called “suicide note” found upon Mentzer’s arrest, Risovich said, was a note his client wrote because he was afraid those he offended with his white supremacist views would seek retribution.

On Nov. 30, a preliminary hearing for Mentzer was continued until March as both defense and prosecution lawyers await the outcome of a federal investigation into the matter. While Risovich argued FBI agents were intimidating witnesses and advising them not to speak to defense investigators, Davis said he’d heard of no such activities. However, he felt it would be prudent to delay proceedings until attorneys on both sides had the opportunity to review witness statements collected by federal prosecutors.

The cases against Mentzer and Little likely will go before a grand jury in April, according to Davis.

On Dec. 9, Mentzer’s mother, Karen Mentzer, was sentenced to six months’ probation for giving her son anabolic steroids while he was still 17. Davis said in April 2008, school officials at the John D. Rockefeller Career Center in New Cumberland confiscated two vials of powder containing the steroid nandrolone decanoate.

He said Karen Mentzer later admitted to purchasing the substance -illegal without a prescription – for her son over the Internet as a weightlifting aid.