A grand jury indicted a Florida Army National Guard soldier Wednesday on federal explosives charges in a crime that started with the grisly discovery of two bodies in a Tampa apartment May 19 and ended with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office’s bomb squad being called out to a Key Largo Burger King following a traffic stop two days later.
Brandon Clint Russell, 21, is charged with a count each of possessing unregistered explosives and illegally storing explosives and blasting devices. For the first offense, Russell faces 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, said William Daniels, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The second charge, a misdemeanor, carries with it a maximum of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, Daniels said.
His attorney, Ian J. Goldstein, said Russell entered not-guilty pleas to both counts. He was transferred from a federal holding facility in Miami to the Pinellas County jail on a U.S. Marshals Service hold Wednesday, said Sgt. Spencer Gross, spokesman for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
Tampa police officers and federal agents found the bomb-making materials in a cooler in a garage under an apartment where Russell’s roommate, Devon Arthurs, 19, led police to the bullet-riddled bodies of Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Oneschuk, on May 19.
Arthurs confessed to the cops that he killed Himmelman, 22, and Oneschuk, 18, because they persisted in denigrating his newfound Muslim faith. He had been a white supremacist, as reportedly had Himmelman, Oneschuk and Russell.
Russell, who holds the rank of specialist in the National Guard, had just returned home to the apartment from training when Arthurs arrived with police to show them the bodies. Arthurs said Russell had nothing to do with the slayings.
William Manley, deputy communications director with the Florida National Guard, said in an email Thursday that Russell remains an active member in the service.
“Specialist Russell is still a member of the Florida National Guard. His status with the Florida National Guard will be reviewed pending the outcome of our internal investigation and/or the outcome of the federal prosecution,” Manley wrote.
As they searched the building, agents found the explosives. They also found neo-Nazi propaganda in his bedroom, as well as a framed photograph of Timothy McVeigh, the domestic terrorist who in 1995 bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.
According to the FBI’s arrest affidavit, Russell was open about his white supremacist views and professed to being a member of a neo-Nazi group called the Atomwaffen — which means atomic weapon in German. He admitted that the explosives — hexamethane triperoxide diamine — were his, but he said he manufactured them years earlier for a college engineering club project, not to make bombs.
Russell was not immediately arrested, but after a review of the explosives and 5.56-caliber bullet casings with fuses that FBI agents say could be used to detonate the HMTD, the FBI obtained a warrant for his arrest on May 20. By that time, he left town. Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies pulled him over at mile marker 99 in Key Largo.
Since Russell’s arrest, members of Atomwaffen have been praising him and mourning the loss of Himmelman and Oneschuk in online forums. They’ve also been blasting Arthurs for killing them and turning away from his white supremacist beliefs.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204