In the day that passed in between when Florida Army National Guard Pfc. Brandon Russell was interviewed by FBI agents about explosives found in his Tampa apartment — where the bullet-riddled bodies of two young men were also discovered — and when he was pulled over by Sheriff’s Office deputies in Key Largo, he picked up a friend in Bradenton. The pair made their way to Homestead, where they bought two rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition before heading south into the Keys.
Deputies searching Russell’s car Sunday, May 21, found the two rifles, several cases of .223-caliber and 5.56-caliber ammunition and four 30-round magazines.
“Each of the four magazines were already loaded with about 25 rounds of the .223 caliber ammunition,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Josephine Thomas wrote in documents filed in federal court Monday.
Also found in the car were “binoculars, some of his Army camouflage uniforms, combat boots, and a skull mask,” Thomas wrote.
Nevertheless, a federal judge Friday deemed Russell not a threat or flight risk and ruled he should be allowed bond and released until trial. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office immediately filed a motion to revoke the order.
“No condition or combination of conditions can be set to secure the safety of the community and Russell’s future appearance,”Thomas wrote.
A hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning will determine if Russell, 21, is allowed to go free pending his trial, which is scheduled for Aug. 7. He’s charged with a felony count of possessing unregistered explosives and a misdemeanor count of illegally storing explosives and blasting devices.
He faces a maximum 11-year sentence if convicted.
Ian J. Goldstein, Russell’s defense attorney, said Friday that the judge, Magistrate Thomas B. McCoun, has not set a bond amount.
William Manley, deputy communications director with the Florida National Guard, said in an email last 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. Manley later corrected the statement to reflect Russell’s rank of private first class, not specialist.
In the June 9 order, McCoun states he does not consider Russell a flight risk, in part, because his grandmother “is willing to post her house in Orlando to secure his release and both his mother and grandmother agree to act as a third-party custodian.”
Russell’s father is a “deputy sheriff” living in West Palm Beach, according to court documents. McCoun wrote his father’s profession lessens the likelihood his son would leave the state prior to trial.
McCoun called the purchasing of the rifles and bullets “concerning information,” but not compelling enough to hold Russell without bond. The judge also factored in Russell’s military service and his lack of a criminal or arrest record in his decision, concluding “he represents no real harm to others.”
Sheriff’s Office deputies pulled Russell’s vehicle over around noon May 21 at mile marker 99. He and his friend were traveling south. The day before, the FBI obtained an arrest warrant for Russell based on a review of the bomb-making materials agents and Tampa Police found May 19 in his apartment. They found the explosives after being taken to the apartment by Devon Arthurs, 19, who admitted he shot dead his two friends — Jeremy Himmelman, 22, and Andrew Onschuk, 18 — whose bodies were found inside the home.
Just as police arrived with Arthurs, Russell, his roommate, returned home from National Guard duty. Police do not suspect Russell had any involvement in the murders.
All four men, however, have or had connections to white supremacist groups. Russell freely admitted to investigators his neo-Nazi beliefs and professed to being a member of a group called the Atomwaffen -- German for atomic weapon. The group in online forums proudly considers Russell one of its own, mourns the loss of Himmelman and Oneschuk and blasts Arthurs as a traitor.
Arthurs told police he committed the murders because he recently converted to Islam, and Himmelman and Oneschuk regularly made insulting statements about his new-found faith.
Police found a significant amount of white supremacist propaganda in the apartment, as well as a framed photograph in Russell’s bedroom of Timothy McVeigh, the man convicted of bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, in 1995.
Inside a cooler located in the garage directly underneath the apartment, investigators found the chemical hexamethane triperoxide diamine, or HMTD, which can be used to make bombs. Also in the cooler were 5.56-caliber bullet casings with fuses that the FBI states could be used to detonate the HMTD.
Russell told police and FBI agents the HMTD, shells and fuses were his, but that they were for a rocket project he worked on several years earlier for a college engineering club. He was allowed to leave and told agents he was going to visit his father in West Palm Beach, but instead went to Homestead.
“In Homestead, he connected with another individual,” McCoun wrote. “In the process, he proceeded to a gun shop where and purchased two hunting rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.