A recent Austin College graduate was arrested in Houston on Saturday after allegedly attempting to destroy a Confederate monument with explosives.
The Associated Press reports that Andrew Schneck, 25, was arrested and charged with attempting to maliciously damage or destroy property receiving federal financial assistance after a Houston park ranger found him near a statue of Confederate Lt. Richard Dowling with two suspicious boxes wrapped in duct tape as well as a bottle and tube. The AP report cited a criminal complaint which indicated the materials inside the tube were forensically tested by authorities and determined to be explosive in nature.
Schneck’s arrest follows racially-charged rallies, counter protests and violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, all of which were sparked by the removal of Confederate statues and were ultimately connected to three deaths, including those of two law enforcement officers. The third death occurred when a man drove his vehicle into a crowd of protesters, killing a 19-year old woman and injuring dozens more.
Schneck’s involvement with federal investigators goes back to 2013, when he was enrolled in Austin College.
“The FBI informed us that one of our students may have had some information that would help them in a broader investigation,” Austin College Director of Public Affairs Lynn Womble said Tuesday. “So they did come to campus and, of course, we wanted to be absolutely cooperative and compliant in helping them in the normal due diligence of their efforts. So they were on campus to collect information and while they were here we reassured everyone at the time — and I want to reiterate this — that there were absolutely no devices anywhere on campus that would have been destructive or harmful.”
Sam Caskey, who roomed with Schneck in one of the college’s dorms in 2013, said Schneck wasn’t socially active and spent much of his time in their dorm room. He said he recalled Schneck showing him a video he made in which he assembled fireworks, but didn’t think much of it.
Caskey said he was shocked when the FBI and law enforcement officials showed up at their dorm. He said he was interviewed by the FBI, but because he signed a non-disclosure agreement with the agency, he was not able to share the content of their discussion. Caskey said he was moved to another dorm that same day and that the only other time he again crossed paths with Schneck was through brief sightings on campus.
Womble said the FBI never informed college administration about the scope or content of its investigation and that she didn’t know whether Schneck himself was ever the subject of the agency’s investigation.
“There was absolutely nothing from their investigation,” Womble said. “Like I had mentioned, there were no devices, anything that would be harmful and safety was not hindered in any way. So he completed his studies and graduated, on time.”
But before he graduated in 2016 with a degree in chemistry, The AP reports that Schneck was arrested in 2014 for the improper storage of explosives at his home in Houston. Court documents indicated Schneck pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to pay more than $150,000 in restitution and was given five years of probation.
Caskey said he knew of Schneck’s 2014 arrest, but that he did not feel uneasy about Schneck being on campus because he encountered him with such little frequency and he felt confident that law enforcement officials were able to monitor his activities.
According to the AP, a federal judge approved a November 2016 request that Schneck’s sentence be terminated early and, as per Schneck’s attorney, Philip Hilder, the judge wrote that Schneck “is not a risk to public safety” and that “his focus is no longer concentrated on high-risk activities.”
However, authorities allege that when Schneck was caught on Saturday he carried a plastic bottle containing what was likely nitroglycerin, an ingredient used in explosives. Officials also claim that a small aluminum tube included in the apparatus contained powder that was tested and determined to be Hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, a primary explosive.
The AP report quotes the Houston Police Department’s bomb squad as saying in a criminal complaint that the items found in Schneck’s possession — a timer, wires, a detonator, a battery and the explosive materials were “capable to produce a viable explosive device.”
The criminal complaint cited by the AP lists Schneck as telling the park ranger that he wished to harm the statue of Dowling and that he “did not like that guy.”
Schneck informed police he had additional chemicals stored at his Houston home where he lives with his mother and, on Monday, neighboring residences were evacuated as authorities removed the materials and neutralized them with controlled detonation, according to the Houston Fire Department.
Schneck is set to remain in federal custody until further determination is made Thursday.