By Ely Portillo
Posted: Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010
A teenager who authorities say brought an exploding pen to his school appeared in court Wednesday, as reports surfaced that he may have been kicked out of his previous school because of bomb plans found in his notebook.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials wouldn't say Wednesday why Jessie Bauguess, 16, was sent from Vance High School to Turning Point Academy after last school year. They said he had "discipline issues," but said state law prevents them from discussing his student record.
But a former Vance teacher said the teen left the school after a bomb scare that started when other students reported he had a map of the school and sketches of explosive devices.
His arrest Monday followed a pen explosion at Turning Point that sent a student to the hospital and touched off a massive investigation. Bomb squads shut down Bauguess' neighborhood on Mount Holly Road in northwest Charlotte and probed the house with robots for two days, carrying out controlled detonations of the explosive, TATP, they say they found there.
After his court appearance Wednesday, Jessie Bauguess' grandmother said the incident has been blown "totally out of proportion" and her grandson didn't intend to hurt anyone.
"The way I understand it, he was trying to scare someone as a prank," said Elaine Cochran. "It was a sorry prank."
She said her grandson is somewhat of a loner whose favorite subject is science. The former Vance teacher said the youth was easy to spot in the hallways - shaved head, often wearing a dark trench coat, a black shirt and black jeans.
"I know he likes to experiment with science things," Cochran said. "I guess that's what got him in trouble. I hate that my grandsons are throwing their lives away."
Jessie Bauguess was arrested Monday morning after the exploding pen burned a student's hand and sent fragments into his arm and chest at Turning Point, a CMS alternative school. Three firefighters were later injured as they tested explosives found at the Bauguess home.
The suspect's 15-year-old brother was arrested at the family's home later the same day, and the boys' mother, 37-year-old Tracy Bauguess, turned herself in to police Wednesday.
Cochran, Tracy Bauguess' mother, said her daughter is a hard-working single mom. She had already arranged with police to turn herself in Tuesday, Cochran said, before police announced she was wanted and asked the public to call 911 if they saw her.
"She's extremely hurt in all this," Cochran said. She said Tracy Bauguess - charged with three counts of malicious use of explosives and possession of a weapon of mass destruction - didn't know what her sons might have been doing when she wasn't around.
Cochran said she didn't know why her grandson left Vance High School, and hadn't heard about the reports he may have had bomb plans in a notebook.
Wednesday afternoon, Jessie Bauguess, legs shackled, appeared in a dull green jumpsuit and black glasses in front of Mecklenburg District Judge Regan Miller. He told the judge, "I think so," when asked if he had a lawyer.
Kirk Bauguess, the teen's father, then stood up and told Miller he's trying to raise the retainer fee for a defense lawyer. Miller ordered a public defender appointed for the teen until he has his own lawyer.
When the judge asked Kirk Bauguess if he had any questions, the father shook his head.
"I can't think straight right now, your honor," he said. A moment later, he spoke up again.
"I did think of a question: How do I find out what hours I can see my son?"
The judge told him to check with the jail, then scheduled a hearing for next Thursday to decide if the teenager's bond - currently $500,000 - should remain the same. Bauguess faces charges of malicious use of an explosive, possession of a weapon on school grounds, and arson or unlawful burning resulting in serious injury to a firefighter.
Kirk Bauguess declined to comment after the court appearance.
Police wouldn't say Wednesday whether they believe Jessie Bauguess was planning anything more serious than a prank exploding pen, or specify exactly how much TATP - a powerful and often unstable explosive - they found in his house.
But Jessie Bauguess apparently has run into trouble before at school because of explosives, said the former Vance teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Several students reported to a teacher that Jessie Bauguess had sketches of explosive devices and a map of the school, the teacher said.
CMS officials would not comment on the teacher's account. They also wouldn't discuss whether sending a student who may have made bomb threats to an alternative school is appropriate procedure.
A police report from April 29 says several students at Vance were discussing "the details of a bomb threat, that is supposed to be carried out," but doesn't offer further details.
According to the teacher, the school was rocked by rumors of a possible bombing. Police searched the school, the teacher said, and a public address system announcement assured the students that everything was OK.
A few days later, the teacher said, Jessie Bauguess had left the school.
STAFF WRITERS STEVE LYTTLE, MICHAEL GORDON AND ANN DOSS HELMS CONTRIBUTED.
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