Montgomery County police discovered several weapons, including an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle, and a list of grievances against students while searching the home of the 18-year-old Clarksburg High School student arrested last week for bringing a knife and loaded handgun to school, according to county prosecutors.
Prosecutors detailed Tuesday during a bond review hearing in Montgomery County District Court what was found during Thursday's search of the home of Alwin Chen, 18, of the 11700 block of Gunners Drive in Germantown. Chen, who appeared in court over video from the Montgomery County Detention Center in Rockville, was ordered held without bail by Judge John C. Moffett. He faces charges of possession of a handgun, possession of a firearm by a person under 21 and possession of a firearm on school property, according to county police.
When arrested Thursday afternoon at the high school, Chen had a 9mm handgun in his book bag and a knife in his pocket, according to police, The arrest came a day after a former student shot and killed at least 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Officer Michael Chindblom of the county police department's crisis intervention team testified in court Tuesday that police found the list and additional weapons at Chen's home while executing a search warrant. In addition to the AR-15 style rifle, several inert grenades, revolvers, a Glock pistol, landmine detonators and an attack vest were found, he said.
In arguing that Chen be held without bail, prosecutors stressed the danger posed by the teenager while his defense attorneys said he is a good student and that the allegation that a list of grievances had been found was mischaracterized.
“This is about as dangerous of a situation that the state could imagine,” assistant state’s attorney Frank Lazzaro said.
Lazzaro pointed out that Chen had allegedly brought a gun to school before, though he did not elaborate on the incident. He also said Chen changed his story when talking to police, first telling them he planned to use the gun after school for target practice, and later saying it was to protect himself.
David Felsen, an attorney representing Chen along with Jill Michaels, said his client is a good student who had “never been in trouble” and a scholarship-level athlete. He presented two acceptance letters from colleges in Maryland and Florida. Chen was cooperating “100 percent” with police, he said, and there was “no hint of any mental issue at all.” The weapons appeared to be legal and were not owned by Chen, but by another person living at the house and were found in another bedroom, according to Chen's attorneys.
The weapons were appropriate to be in the house, Felsen said. “This is an 18-year-old with absolutely no history,” he said.
Moffett ordered Chen to be held without bail. Moffett said that even if the weapons were not Chen's and are no longer at his home, he has the ability to get them.
“I can’t think of a reason to bring a gun to school—much less a loaded gun,” he said. “The list of grievances exacerbates the situation.”
At Felsen’s request, Moffett ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Chen and said the attorneys could file a motion for modifying the terms of bail after it is completed.
The handgun that Chen allegedly brought to school. Police edited the serial number out of the picture. Via Montgomery County police
Chen has been held since he was arrested Thursday at the high school. Around 2 p.m. that day, the school resource officer, a Montgomery County police officer assigned to the school, learned that Chen might have brought a gun to school, according to police. Police did not say how the officer learned about the gun. The officer went with school security to Chen's AP psychology classroom, told Chen they needed to speak to him and walked him to an office.
The officer then asked Chen if he had a weapon on him, and Chen replied that he had a handgun in his book bag and a knife in the front pocket of his shirt, according to police. It was about 2:20 p.m. when the officer recovered the weapons from where Chen said they were, and the officer placed him under arrest.
Chen told officers that “on previous occasions he had felt anxious from social interactions between himself and students,” according to court documents.
The shooting at the Florida high school was a recurring line of discussion in the courtroom. Chen’s arrest on Thursday came a day after the attack, and Montgomery County police investigated threats to up to a dozen area schools on Friday.
Lazzaro said the shooting was “obviously on everyone’s mind” and Moffett noted how no one is “tagged with a neon sign or warning sign” that the person could be a danger to a school or community.
“I’m very thankful that someone went to school officials and alerted them,” Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said during a press conference outside the courthouse. “I don’t think there’s a possibility of even overreacting to a case like this.
Felsen and Michaels distanced their client from others who threaten schools. “We’re just hoping that the administration of justice in this case against this defendant is reflective of the facts in this case, not that genuine pulse of fear that everyone shares, adults, parents, teachers and children, right now in society,” Michaels said. “This case is different than the circumstances of a high school shooting.”
Felsen suggested that when people with a national forum “are saying things like, ‘the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,’ one can understand how there could be cases with allegations similar to this case.”
“I’m not saying that those are the circumstances in this case,” he said, “but what we know in this case is that Mr. Chen was cooperative at all times, there was no allegation that he made any threat to anyone, there was no allegation that he showed the alleged weapon to anyone.”
Chen’s next court date has not been set, but McCarthy said it would likely be next week.