The Dec. 17 email referred to information that its sender had received from a friend: A “REAL BOMB” had been placed on the Trident Technical College campus in North Charleston.
With a tenuous grasp on grammar and sentence structure, the sender was precise about the location: in the bushes near the Student Center on Rivers Avenue.
“B is NOT dangerous withot fire,” the email said. “I’m not sure how correct this info. In any way pls call security to check and remove it.”
Police officers later found the yellow plastic bag dangling from the shrubbery. Technicians destroyed it, eliminating any danger it might have posed to the nearly empty campus.
The information, based on an incident report and a copy of the email released by the campus police, sheds light on the threat itself. But still unknown is what might have driven a North Charleston man with a limited criminal history to plant the object.
William Gregory McGrath, 35, a former Trident Tech student, remains jailed in lieu of $125,000 bail. He faces a charge of manufacturing, possessing and placing a destructive device, a felony that’s punishable with at least 25 years and up to life in prison.
Maj. Jim Brady of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said deputies were working with federal terrorism experts to answer remaining questions.
McGrath said during a bond hearing that he didn’t know why authorities would accuse him of making a bomb. But he declined an interview with The Post and Courier and a chance to explain the statement, according to Brady.
Attempts to contact McGrath’s family members also were unsuccessful.
McGrath has been arrested at least twice in South Carolina, according to the State Law Enforcement Division, though he also said during the hearing that he had never been in trouble.
He was not convicted in either case, and a drunken driving arrest was supposed to be expunged from his criminal record. Documentation of the run-ins with the police was obtained through an S.C. Freedom of Information Act request.
But court records do show that McGrath was convicted in April 2004 of failure to pay taxes.
One afternoon in April 2007, the Mount Pleasant Police Department received two calls about McGrath’s sport utility vehicle weaving “all over the road,” according to an incident report.
An officer found McGrath’s SUV parked outside a gas station, but when he saw the police, McGrath tried to hide behind the store, the report stated.
His speech was slurred, his eyes were glossy, and he stumbled, the officer wrote. “His face was red and his shirt was repositioned on his body as if he was just in a fight,” the report stated.
McGrath failed a field-sobriety test, according to the report, and he caused a disturbance by shouting after he was handcuffed. At the police station, he refused a breath test and got into “several verbal altercations” with officers.
McGrath was arrested again about two years later, when employees at a Mount Pleasant Circuit City accused him of damaging a Sony laptop while trying to steal it.
A store worker said he heard a “snap, pop and other loud noises” while he was helping a customer, according to an incident report. He turned to find McGrath fiddling with the computer, which was hooked to a display shelf with cords.
McGrath told the employee that he was just checking out the computer’s connections, but the laptop screen broke in the process, the report stated. The damage was estimated at $765, and McGrath was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of malicious injury to personal property.
The most recent court records about McGrath indicate that he was being evicted this month from his home at the Alta Shores apartment complex on Elms Plantation Boulevard.
It was at that apartment where authorities investigating the bomb scare found eight marijuana plants growing in a closet. In an outside storage shed, a report stated, they found traces of the fertilizer ammonium nitrate and commercial fireworks.
Those materials, authorities said, connected McGrath to the device.
Brady, the sheriff’s spokesman, said it’s still unknown whether McGrath can be linked directly to the email that lodged the threat. The message was sent through Yu2Yu.com, a website based in Russia that makes it difficult for authorities to pinpoint an email’s source.
Brady said he was unsure whether experts were able to see through the veil that the “scrubber” created.
After reading the email, which was sent to a general school account, campus police officers found the plastic bag hanging from wires attached to bushes outside the Student Center. Inside the bag, which was suspended about 3˝ feet above the ground, was a small box, according to a report. Authorities said the box contained ammonium nitrate, an ignition device and nails.
Fewer than a half-dozen people were evacuated from the building. The campus was closed because of winter break, limiting any injuries or loss of life that the device could have caused.
That’s why investigators think the bomb might have been a test to determine how authorities would respond to such a threat.
The next day, another employee contacted the police to report that she had received the same email.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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