Mark Christopher Woods1 was a freshman economics major who lived in Hamm House in Tercero for part of the 2007-2008 school year. Because of suspicious things found in Mark's dorm room on March 5, 2008, all of Thille Hall was evacuated at 9 PM that night. The UC Davis Police Department arrested him on charges of possession of chemicals to make explosives and possession of explosives on school grounds. Campus police have stated that Mark had not made any threats to harm anyone at school, and cooperated with investigators in describing the materials in his residence-hall room. For some reason or another, a no-fly zone was temporarily put over the airspace consisting of campus and areas one mile away. Residents weren't let back into their rooms until about noon the next day, requiring that students find alternate sleeping arrangements. Many residents spent the night in the Tercero dining commons.
The story made national news, but a bomb detonation in New York City's Times Square and the ongoing closely run Presidential primaries pushed it down the news pages. The initial story appeared in local news outlets and college newspapers across the country.
According to his roommate, Mark wasn't making bombs, or anything explosive for that matter. Another resident of Thille Hall, however, claims that Mark was making explosives along the lines of M80s and such. At his arraignment, Mark claimed he was just making fireworks. By all accounts, Mark is a nice guy who wouldn't hurt a fly.
Mark was released from Yolo County Jail on March 6, 2008 on $100,000 bail. On April 4, Mark was formally charged with two felony counts: "possessing materials with intent to make an explosive or destructive device" and with "possessing such a device in or near a college." He was arraigned on April 25 where he plead not guilty to the charges against him.
In September 2008, Mark plead no contest to a felony charge of unlawful possession of an explosive and received three years felony probation, 150 days in county jail and 150 hours of community service; however, after 20 months he can petition the court to reduce the offense to a misdemeanor. Because of jail overcrowding, he was allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest with electronic monitoring. According to KCRA news reports, he moved back home to Los Angeles was not allowed on the UC Davis campus without written permission.
He was eventually readmitted and was a senior chemistry major as of Spring 2012.
What went down that night
The whole fiasco began when a mother of a resident in Hamm House called the UCDPD at 8:57 PM and reported that a group of residents that included Mark Woods were drinking beer and making bombs in room 316 (a quad) in D Building in Tercero. The mother stated that her daughter lived down the hall and knew what was going on there. The UCDPD says they later received reports that there was an explosion on the balcony about two hours prior to this phone call. The UCDPD dispatched an officer to Tercero to see what was going on. When the officer knocked and nobody answered, the officer found that the door was unlocked and entered the room. The first things he saw were two capped metal pipes2. Looking around some more, he found various powders and a computer that had a recipe for HMDT up on the screen. After dispatch told him that HMDT was bad mojo, the officer evacuated the building and called for the Yolo County bomb squad. The evacuation of the rest of Thille soon followed.
Various agencies were called in to deal with the situation, including the ATF and FBI. Since nobody was in immediate danger after the evacuation, the police waited until a search warrant was issued before they proceeded further. Once the search warrant was issued at 4:16 AM, investigators began to remove the chemicals and other evidence from the dorm room. The Yolo County bomb squad cataloged and removed five plastic bins the size of milk crates that contained powders and chemicals. While the exact list of chemicals recovered has yet to be released, the police claim that black gunpowder was present in the room. Police said the chemicals were not dangerous because they had not been mixed.
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2008-03-09 22:19:09 Summary: Mark almost set us up the bomb. Evacuated residents had no chance to stay in the dorms, they make their time in the DC. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Campus moved out every zig to search the dorms for weed before letting residents return to all their dorm. —BrentLaabs
2008-03-10 02:17:02 sounds about right
you rule —StevenDaubert
2008-03-10 15:49:34 Undegrads, do tell: Do campus officials review rules of what not to house in dorms? It seems like in general, whether or not anyone INTENDS any harm, it should be known what sorts of devices should/can not be brought into dorms for the welfare and sake of others. Perhaps an overview of rules (and a signature from the student and or parent saying they understand the rules) is missing from residential hall procedures. —AnnieSirrah
2008-03-10 15:50:23 "By all accounts, Mark is a nice guy who wouldn't hurt a fly." <== I'm sure this is true, but isn't that what they ALL say? —AnnieSirrah
It's not common when it is coming from the powers that be. -wl
2008-03-10 19:13:30 They should've seen my dorm room...
2008-03-11 14:26:11 Yes, the residents do know what the rules of the dorms are. We are to read the Guide to Residence Hall Life upon moving in, thus agreeing to follow the housing contracts. (http://student.housing.ucdavis.edu/publications/) If you go to the 17th page of this document you will see that it is clearly spelled out that: "fireworks, ammunition, explosives, pyrotechnics, or flammable materials are prohibited in the residence halls." So, it should be clear to the students that they must follow everything in this document.
Also, to respond to Annie, the signature of the parents would not be needed since most students are 18. But I agree that maybe it would be helpful to the students if they knew that they were committing to these policies by signing, rather than the staff just saying that in general, living in the dorms means you agree to live by the rules. —sbucksstudier
Anybody know if he had anything that fell into the above categories? News reports read like he didn't have any explosives, just the raw materials with which to make them (which is true of just about any dorm room if you're knowledgeable about chemistry, which — despite the clear and present danger of knowledge in the hands of citizens — is still taught on some college campuses around the country3). —jw
2008-04-18 21:30:09 At first, I read the reports on this, the over-reaction, and the claims of "explosive devices" mixed with contradictions in the police report, and I thought that the dean is trying to railroad Mark for reasons of his own. When I heard that the recipe for HMDT was on Mark's computer screen, I thought that merely looking at the recipe is not intent to make the stuff. But when I saw hexamine and hydrogen peroxide in the siezed items, I knew he did intend to make HMDT, and that is very, very bad shit. (I used to use it in some experiments in explosive metal forming, and I used it in a new kind of detonator that waits to be patented.) So one more piece has been added to Mark's education. As for his computer, he should review the David Westerfield case in San Diego. Westerfield is now on DEATH ROW because computer evidence convicted him. And Mark should consider the need for secrecy in illicit activities. And finally, Mark might review the "Reid nine-point interrogation method" if he ever gets access to a computer again. Those police interrogators are so effective at getting confessions that they even get 'em from innocent people!
At Berkeley in the pre-revolutionary period of the early sixties, a rival dorm challenged us to a rocketry contest. First to hit the other dorm with a rocket would enjoy a keg bought by the other dorm. I did not participate, but I saw them making and testing the nitrocellulose in the bathroom sinks. The rocket went high order about 50 feet from lauch, and cracked a lot of the windows of Putnam Hall around the edge. But the screws never caught anybody for this.
I have no doubt that the campus police searched for all kinds of stuff during the evacuation. Watch for more cases to come down. Do keep in mind that journalists are motivated to outdo each other to sell newspapers.
A guy I had the highest respect for, Arthur Leonard (PBUH), was a physics prof at Davis. Consulting him was always a pleasure. To see his work, just google "tilted mirrors". —almanosr
2008-04-20 09:45:03 A further observation: Mark is lucky they did not charge him with "contemplation of safe cracking", since he had iron oxide and powdered aluminum (mixed, they make THERMITE, which reaches very high temperatures and melts through steel). None of the stuff in the siezure list seemed related to drugs; there werer probably plenty of others in the dorm doing that and Mark would be smart not to step on their franchise.
For now, the best strategy Mark can use is to become one of them. Get a haircut and shave so that he looks like the dean. Dress in the same kind of clothing as the dean. Join the dean's church and political party, marry the dean's daughter, etc. Also, keep in mind that the United States of America is a most wonderful country where, whatever the problem, it can usually be solved by liberal use of money.
I believe that when you move into a UC dorm, you waive all fourth amendment and California constitutional protections related to search, siezure, and privacy. In fact, you probably lose these rights the minute you step onto ANY college campus. Campus police are highly trained in PRETEXT FABRICATION. For example, I observed local campus police doing a detailed search of a car for marijuana particles. They said the car was going to be towed for overparking, so as a service to the owner, they were making a detailed inventory of its contents... in case the towing company tried to steal anything. It is perfectly legal for the police to lie in the pursuit of their work goals.
I used to work in a special place. On one occasion, they had a fire alarm and evacuated the building. While we were gone, auditors checked everybody's time card and security people looked in everybody's desk and computer for classified material that should not be there. Well... not exactly EVERYBODY, only those who were targeted. That's how it is done in the real world. The guys who make the rules are not required to follow them (as the Tehran police chief recently illustrated). I believe Machiavelli is still required reading for young college students. —almanosr
- 1Early news reports named him as "Christopher Woods"
- 2The Aggie paraphrased UCDPD Police Captain Souza as saying these were PVC pipes. The Aggie probably screwed this up.
- 3Despite the parenthetical sarcasm, I'm actually not saying he was railroaded... for all I know he had a ammobox full of dynamite. I'm complaining more about the news reports being vaguely 'he had chemicals!' rather than reporting a reasonable account of what happened and why.