Boy's Plastic Hydrogen Bomb
Causes Police Search
Why do presumably intelligent school principals sometimes do
really stupid things?
One such person in Long Beach, California, overheard a
student discussing his science fair project.
It didn't occur to the principal that a middle school student could
not possibly make thermonuclear weapons from information
seen on the Internet.
It did not seem odd to the principal that the boy's
parents were providing the materials for the device.
It did not seem necessary to ask some simple questions
about the design of the device, or to
read the instructions
for it, which would have made it clear that the device
No, the principal thought it was important to suspend the
student, and call the sheriff's department and have the
boy's house searched at taxpayer's expense.
On Thursday, April 11th, 2002, I received the following letter from
attorney Michael I. Schiller, asking for my help in clearing the
school record of his client. The letter said:
I am an attorney in California and have been retained
to assist a student in the Long Beach Unified School District.
We would like your input as this case may be a public
relations issue for you. We do not believe that you
did anything wrong and that your site is educational.
The student was planning on making the plastic hydrogen bomb
as a science project. Because he said it was a bomb,
he was suspended from school and the principle deemed
his project to be an implied threat. The school even
called the police to investigate the bomb and the student's
house was raided by the police. The police found nothing
and attached a copy of the web site to the report.
We would like to know if you have heard of any similar
cases and if you would be willing to assist us in having
the "implied bomb threat" removed from the student's
Michael I. Schiller
Schiller later sent me a copy of the police report, excerpted below.
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT
Suspicious Circumstances: Possible Posession of a Destructive Device
B. Allen, Employee #434180
I contacted [the principal] regarding a suspicious circumstances
call, tag 627.
[The principal] said about one week ago she heard [the student]
talking to a group of students at Hoover Middle School.
[The principal] said she heard [the student] say he was building
On 02-27-02 [the principal] approached [the student] and asked him
if he was really building a bomb. [The student] told her that
he was building a hydrogen bomb and his parents were buying the
materials to make it for him.
[The principal] said [the student] never threatened to bring the
bomb to school or harm anyone with it.
With the help of assiting units I responded to [the boy's address]
and searched the residence for any explosive device and materials
for its manufacturing (see attached consent to search form
authorized by [the student's] father [father's name]).
We were unable to locate any explosive device or manufacturing
I contacted [the student] and asked him if he remembered telling
anyone he was making a hydrogen bomb.
[The student] said he did tell people he was making a hydrogen
bomb. He said he was making a hydrogen bomb toy from
scitoys.com. The toy squirts water
out of a hole when it's ignited via 9 volt battery.
[The student] printed out the details of the hydrogen bomb off
scitoys.com. See attached 12 page
After examining the
scitoys.com printout I came to the
conclusion the hydrogen bomb [the student] said he was making
was in fact a toy.
Watch Commander, Lt. Stringham, notified of the above.
I suggested to Schiller that it might be useful to look
up "bomb calorimeter" in an encyclopedia or a high school
chemistry or physics book (or on the Internet).
I also suggested that if I had called the device a "squirt gun"
the student might still have been suspended for bringing a
"gun" to school.
On the same web site I also show how to make a
film canister, which has been used on a number of occasions to
win science fairs by my readers. Another very popular item for
science fairs that is shown on my web site is the
which I am certain would also upset the person who suspended
his client. It rolls marbles across a room.