A 25-year-old Houston man previously convicted of a federal explosives charge has been accused of plotting to blow up a Confederate statue in a city park because he did not “like that guy,” authorities say.
Andrew Schneck, the son of a prominent member of the Houston arts community, was charged Monday with attempting to maliciously damage or destroy property receiving federal financial assistance, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Abe Martinez said in a press release. Schneck was targeting the General Dick Dowling Monument in Houston’s Hermann Park, according to prosecutors. He was found at the park with items “capable to produce a viable explosive device” on August 19, prosecutors said.
Schneck was arrested in 2013 after multiple Houston-area homes owned by his family and his Austin College dorm were raided by the FBI. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to one count of storing an explosive in a manner not in conformity with regulations.
Prosecutors said Schneck “conducts ‘chemistry experiments'” at his Houston residence, according to the criminal complaint. Federal authorities have jurisdiction in the case because Houston, “receives federal financial assistance for maintenance of Hermann Park where the General Dowling Monument is located,” prosecutors said.
The statue was built in 1905 and honors Richard William Dowling, a Confederate lieutenant who was a Houston businessman before enlisting, according to the Houston Chronicle. The newspaper says the statue has long been a point of contention in the city.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Schneck Was Found Kneeling in Bushes Near the Confederate Statue With a Timer, Wires, Duct Tape & Explosive Materials, Prosecutors Say
Andrew Schneck was spotted by a Houston park range on Saturday, August 19, about 11 p.m. “kneeling among the bushes in front of the General Dowling Monument” in Hermann Park, prosecutors said in a press release. Schneck was holding “two small boxes with various items inside to include what appeared to be duct tape and wires,” according to prosecutors. He put the boxes on the ground per the ranger’s request and then “took a drink from a plastic bottle but immediately spit it on the ground.” According to the park ranger, Schneck poured the rest of the contents of the bottle onto the ground next to him. The park ranger then saw a “timer and wires in the box” and called Houston Police.
The park ranger asked Schneck if he planned to harm the statue, and Schneck replied he did and that he “did not ‘like that guy,'” prosecutors wrote in court documents.
According to prosecutors, police field tested a white powdery substance found in a small black aluminum tube and the clear liquid found in Schneck’s possession. Police said the tests revealed the materials were most likely nitroglycerin and Hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD). Prosecutors said HMTD is a “high explosive organic compound used as an initiating or primary explosive,” while nitroglycerin “has been used as an active ingredient in the manufacture of explosives.”
“In its pure form, nitroglycerine is a contact explosive, with physical shock causing it to explode, which degrades over time to even more unustable forms. Nitroglycerin is highly dangerous to transport or use. In its undiluted form, it is one of the world’s most powerful explosives,” prosecutors said.
You can read the full criminal complaint below:
The FBI and ATF, along with local police and firefighters, searched a home in Houston on Sunday and Monday as part of the investigation, according to the Houston Chronicle. The street was closed off and residents were asked to leave some nearby houses as a precaution.
“Some very hazardous materials were found (in the house), Houston Police Assistant Chief Larry Satterwhite said Monday at a press conference. “And we are in the process of trying to mitigate that and remove those materials in a safe manner that does not jeopardize the public and keeps everyone safe.”
Controlled explosions were conducted at the scene, in the area of Albans Road between Hazard Street and Wilton Street, according to a city alert.
When asked how much material was found, Satterwhite told reporters, “it’s a lot. There’s a significant amount of material in there. And we want to make sure it’s safe.”
Schneck told police he had other chemicals at his home. According to court documents, Schneck lives with his mother, Cecily Horton, on Albans Road in Houston. She also owns the adjacent property, and told prosecutors that her son uses the second property to “conduct his chemistry experiments.”
2. He Was Sentenced to Probation & Ordered to Pay More Than $150,000 in Restitution in Connection to the 2013 Raids
Andrew Cecil Schneck was sentenced to five years of probation in 2014 after pleading guilty to one count of storing an explosive in a manner not in conformity with regulations. Prosecutors did not detail the allegations against Schneck in that case in court documents.
The conviction came after raids on two properties in Houston, both worth more than $1 million, and a property in Bryan, Texas, owned by Schneck’s family, along with a raid on Schneck’s dorm at Austin College in Sherman. According to the Houston Chronicle, the FBI was searching for chemicals intended to make “tear gas or nerve gas,” and found picric acid, a military-grade explosive, at one of the homes. Two controlled detonations were set off at that home, the newspaper reports.
Schneck was ordered to pay $159,087.05 in restitution to the agencies that conducted the raids on properties owned by his family in 2013 including $127,616.73 to the FBI; $1,315.43 to the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office; $5,535.98 to the Bryan Fire Department; $12.545.53 to the College Station Fire Department; $11,865 to the Houston Fire Department; and $208.38 to the College Station Police Department. Those payments were made within 120 days of his conviction in 2014.
3. Schneck Completed His Chemistry Degree & Had His Probation Ended Early Last Year, With His Lawyers Saying He Is ‘Not a Risk to Public Safety’
Schneck was released from his five-year probation early in November 2016 after a motion filed by his attorneys was not opposed by federal prosecutors.
Schneck continued to study at Austin College after his conviction and completed his chemistry degree in 2016, according to the school’s website. According to the requirements of his probation, Schneck was not allowed to take part in the use of chemical reagents, possess explosive materials or to search for information about how to make explosive materials unless it was part of his school work. He was also ordered to not talk to people online or in person about explosive materials.
According to court documents, which you can read above, Schneck completed 28 of the 60 months of supervised release he received as part of his sentence. His attorneys said in the filing that early termination of the probation was warranted because of his “exemplary post-conviction adjustment and conduct, including completing discharging the financial obligations related to this case.” Prosecutors were not opposed to the early termination, and the two probation offices that oversaw his supervised release, in Plano and Houston, declined to take a position on the motion.
Schneck’s attorneys said his conduct while on probation was of “exemplary character.” They highlighted the completion of his college degree.
“Schneck overcame significant hurtles to complete this portion of his education,” his attorneys wrote. “The achievement is a result of personal growth and highlights that supervised release has fulfilled its rehabilitative ends. Over the term of his supervised release, Schneck has matured and his focus is no longer concentrated on high-risk activities.”
They added that Schneck “is not a risk to public safety nor is there a history of violence.”
As of November 2016, his attorneys said Schneck was “evaluating employment and educational opportunities with the desire to obtain an advanced degree where he hopes to study chemical reactions using cutting-edge computer learning software.”
Schneck met the conditions of his supervised release, committed no new crimes, did not unlawfully possess a controlled substance and completed his financial obligations, his attorneys wrote.
“The early termination of supervised release in this case is sought for the purpose of advancing Schneck in transition to community life,” his attorneys wrote. “Early termination would mark the end of this chapter in his story, giving him the opportunity to move past this mistake. It would signal to Schneck’s friends, family, potential employers and educational institutions that he has established a responsible, productive lifestyle. The benefits to Schneck are real and tangible. Actions for which he is ashamed and regretful have been punished, and restitution has been made.”
4. A High School Classmate Says Schneck Is ‘Disconnected from Reality” & Once Wrote a ‘Manifesto’ About the School’s Popular Girls
Andrew Cecil Schneck attended Memorial High School in the Spring Branch school district, graduating in 2010, according to the Houston Chronicle. A former classmate called him a loner who never had a girlfriend and struggle with social interactions, according to the Chronicle.
“I can’t even think of a single friend he had, to be perfectly honest,” he told the newspaper, adding that he was called Ace because of his initials. “None of this is surprising. He seems a bit disconnected from reality.”
The former classmate said Schneck wrote a “manifesto” about the school’s popular girls during their senior year of high school, decrying how they were treated by their boyfriends and saying he would have been better than them, according to the newspaper.
Schneck is the son of Cecily Horton and Andrew Edward Schneck. His mother, Cecily Horton, a former art gallery owner, is a well known member of the Houston arts community, having served on the boards of multiple museums.
Cecily Horton is a partner at MKG Art Management, where she has worked since 1999. She graduated from Wellesley College and has master’s degrees in philosophy and history of art from Yale. She has been a trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, along with Artadia and the Blaffer Museum at the University of Houston. She is also the past president and trustee emerita of Lawndale Art Center in Houston. Her grandfather, Richard Earhart, was a successful farmer and philanthropist in Michigan.
Andrew Edward Schneck, the suspect’s father, was a doctoral student at Texas A&M University studying urban and regional sciences at the time of the 2013 raids, according to The Bryan-College Station Eagle.
5. Schneck Faces Between 5 to 40 Years in Prison if Convicted
Andrew Schneck faces between five to 40 years in prison if convicted of the charge, the U.S. Attorney’s office said in its press release. He could also face a charge of up to $250,000.
Schneck was taken into custody on Monday after the federal charge was filed and made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy in Houston federal court. He was ordered temporarily detained pending a detention hearing scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI and the Houston Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark McIntyre and Ted Imperato are prosecuting the case. It is not clear if Schneck has hired an attorney and he and his family could not immediately be reached for comment.