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‘Pacifist’ College Student Charged With Carrying Weapon on Plane

By Peter T. Kilborn and Gary Gately

The New York Times -- BALTIMORE, Md.

A 20-year-old college junior was charged on Monday with breaching airport security after alerting authorities that he hid box cutters, bleach, and matches on two aircraft.

FBI investigators told the U.S. district court here that the student, Nathaniel T. Heatwole, told them he tucked the items in Ziploc bags and hid them under the lavatory sinks of two Southwest Airlines planes as a test of airport security. They went undetected for a month.

Heatwole, who sat in court displaying no emotion, was charged with carrying a concealed and dangerous weapon aboard the planes, a violation of federal law. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey released him without bail and set a preliminary hearing date of Nov. 10. He could be fined and imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both, if found guilty.

On Thursday, box cutters, bottles of bleach and clay were found hidden on Southwest planes in New Orleans and Houston.

According to an FBI affidavit presented to the court, the Transportation Security Administration told the FBI on Friday of a mid-September e-mail message it had received from Heatwole that said on the subject line “Information Regarding 6 Recent Security Breaches.”

The FBI said the student in his e-mail told of six incidents of security lapses beginning on Feb. 7, and ending on Sept. 14, at Raleigh-Durham International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

He said in his e-mail he smuggled items on his person and some in his carry on bag including box cutter blades, box cutters, a knife, molding clay which he considered a simulated plastic explosive, matches and bleach.

The FBI said he also left notes which were signed “3891925.” The number is the reverse of Heatwole’s birthdate: 5/29/1983.

Eric Morefield, an FBI bomb technician, said in the affidavit that Heatwole, a student at Guilford College in North Carolina “stated that he was aware that his actions were against the law and that he was aware of the potential consequences for his actions, and that his actions were ‘an act of civil disobedience with the aim of improving public safety for the air-traveling public.”’

The e-mail from him was signed, “Sincerely, Nat Heatwole,”

In Damascas, Md., a horsey and affluent, fast-growing suburb an hour west of Baltimore where the Heatwoles live, and at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., a Quaker school where Heatwole is a political science and physics major, acquaintances portrayed him as a clean-cut, bright young man who is passionate about his pacifist views. He often made the honor roll at Damascus High.

Heatwole had also received $1,000 scholarships each of the past two years from the Potomac Valley Radio Club, a group of ham-radio enthusiasts, said the group’s president, Jack Hammett. “He always had it together,” he said. “He was just always well-dressed and alert, and he was the kind of man you just enjoyed being around.”

Hammett added, “I just don’t know what to think” of the charge that he tampered with airport security. “It’s just very surprising. It just didn’t seem in character with the young man.”

At Guilford College -- whose slogan is “Be the change you wish to see in the world” -- students returned from a week-long break on Sunday to find hordes of journalists on the campus of 2,100 students.