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State

U.S. seeks test of suspect in Illinois school bombing threat

EAST ST. LOUIS – Federal prosecutors are seeking competency testing of a western Illinois high school special education teacher accused of threatening to blow up her school, citing the woman’s history of threatening behavior.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Wilkerson is weighing the U.S. government’s request argued in court Monday in the case of Michelle Smith. Prosecutors also want Smith jailed without bond pending any trial on a felony count of conveying a false threat.

Wilkerson’s rulings on those matters were expected within days. Until that time, the Jerseyville woman – also charged by Calhoun County prosecutors with falsely making a terrorist threat – has been ordered to stay in federal custody.

“We’re not suggesting at all that she’s not competent, but the woman may have some issues that may impact on the prosecution. We don’t know,” Phillip Kavanaugh, Smith’s court-appointed public defender, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Smith, 36, was accused last week in Calhoun County and federal court with leaving a computer-generated note April 28 in a restroom at the Calhoun County High School in Hardin, a 1,000-resident town near the Mississippi River about 40 miles northwest of St. Louis.

“This school is going down today. KABOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” the note said, according to federal court filings. “I’m tired of all the people here. Everyone is going down ... So long and GOOD-BYE!!!!!!!!!”

The letter’s discovery prompted an evacuation of the roughly 170-student school, but a search that included explosives-detecting dogs found no bomb.

Smith was arrested the next day.

“People often say things in the heat of the moment or under stress, but they really don’t mean it,” said Kavanaugh. “In this case, she had no manner or means to carry out these threats. She had no access to explosives, no bombs or a Molotov cocktail – or no wherewithal to carry out these threats.”

Authorities have not said what may have prompted the alleged threat or how they connected it to Smith, though federal prosecutors allege in their motion for the psychiatric testing for Smith that she had threatened violence in 2005 and 2006. Online court records show Smith was charged with two misdemeanor counts of telephone harassment in 2008 in Jersey County, but prosecutors later dropped those cases.

“But there’s something going on, and we have to get to the bottom of it,” Kavanaugh added.

Smith initially was placed on paid administrative leave after her arrest but was suspended last Friday without pay, Superintendent Kate Sievers said Tuesday.

On Monday night, Sievers said, the system’s board passed a motion to begin the process of firing her, with the matter headed for a state hearing officer if Smith chooses to challenge her ouster.

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