Marine intended no harm, kin say
Officials say gun found at Logan was declared
The mother of a Marine accused of smuggling a semiautomatic handgun and bomb-making materials onto a Boston-bound plane said yesterday she was certain her son had no bad intentions and must have packed the contraband by accident.
Justin W. Reed, 22, a corporal who enlisted in the Marines out of high school, was arrested during a layover at Logan International Airport Sunday morning after federal baggage screeners discovered a semiautomatic handgun, a fully loaded gun magazine, a grenade fuse and detonator, and model rocket engines containing explosive mixtures in his baggage, which he had checked without incident at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
His mother, Sandra, said she was stunned by the incident, which has captured national attention for exposing the shortcomings of airport security, and said she believed her son is guilty only of carelessness.
"I guarantee you he didn't mean anyone any harm," she said from her home in Winfield, Mo., before leaving to catch a plane to Boston, where Reed will be arraigned today on weapons charges. "This is just a big misunderstanding. I know I'm his mother, but he's got a heart of gold. There is no way he ever intended to hurt anybody."
Reed was traveling from a military base in California to his home in Jacksonville, N.C., to surprise his wife for their second anniversary, which was yesterday, and their 1-year-old boy, his mother said. He travels frequently between California and Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he is based, she said.
Reed speculated that her son must have inadvertently packed the weapons, adding that he often works with explosives. A spokesman for the Second Marine Division confirmed that Reed uses explosives in his position training infantrymen at Twentynine Palms military base in California.
The spokesman, Lieutenant Philip Klay, said the Marines are actively investigating the allegations, particularly where the weapons came from, and are cooperating with prosecutors.
Reed received a good conduct medal in 2008, Klay said. He has not seen combat.
The Transportation Security Administration yesterday continued to investigate how the illicit materials went undetected in Las Vegas and were loaded onto the cross-country flight. The materials were discovered after baggage handlers mistakenly routed one of his three bags, a military-style backpack, to the baggage claim carousel instead of his connecting flight. Baggage is only checked on connecting flights that originate from outside the country.
Security personnel rescreened the bag because it was in a public area, and searched it by hand after an electronic scan suggested potentially hazardous items. They then paged Reed while notifying authorities and calling in bomb specialists.
Ann Davis - a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, the federal agency that oversees airport security - said Reed had declared the firearm in Las Vegas as required. Investigators had initially reported that he did not declare the gun, which was secured in a locked gun box, but later determined he had after locating the paperwork.
His baggage also contained a fully loaded gun magazine; several boxes of 9mm and 7.62mm ammunition; three model rocket engines containing an explosive mixture; military fuses; electronics kit boxes with various components; and a hand grenade fuse assembly with detonator, federal officials said.
Davis said that while the items were illegal, "they did not pose an imminent threat to aviation."
"Neither the passenger's checked bags nor items contained within were ever carried into the passenger cabin of the aircraft," she added.
A spokesman at the McCarran International Airport declined comment and deferred questions to the TSA.
Reed arrived in Boston at 7 Sunday morning and was scheduled to board an 8 a.m. US Airways flight to Charlotte, with a final destination of Norfolk, Va. He faces charges of possession of an infernal machine and attempting to put an explosive device on an aircraft.
Aviation security specialists said the failure to detect substantial amounts of illicit, potentially dangerous materials, marked a serious lapse that suggests systemic failings.
"We're playing Russian roulette with this stuff," said Charles Slepian, who heads the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center in New York City. "It should not happen, but it does. The system is just not where it ought to be."
Airports have been slow to incorporate new machines capable of distinguishing explosive materials, he said, because of their enormous size and expense. X-ray machines most commonly can spot only potentially dangerous materials and rely on individual screeners to investigate further. Without automated detection, screeners are unlikely to consistently "distinguish sulfuric acid from soda water," he said.
Seth Young, a professor of aviation at Ohio State University, said electronic screening would have shown the unusual shape and density of the illicit items. After that, however, the system relies on human initiative.
"The machines don't confirm anything," he said. "They just send up a red flag."
Reed's mother described her son as a patriot who grew up wanting to be a Marine and enlisted right out of high school. She visited him two weeks ago in Jacksonville and said he seemed happy and well.
She and other family members have been shocked by the charges, and said they are confident there is a simple explanation. The fact that he declared the gun and checked his baggage, she said, showed he was not trying to hide anything.
"I know my kid, and this just isn't him," she said.