It’s not just the tangible objects found in Yongda Huang Harris’s suitcase that are alarming authorities — it’s the virtual items, too. Prosecutors have pored through Harris’s computer since he was arrested more than a week ago at Los Angeles International Airport after security officials found a veritable arsenal of weapons in his luggage, including a biohazard suit, billy clubs and a smoke grenade, as he traveled from Japan to Boston.
Federal authorities say they’ve found pornographic videos and instructions on kidnapping people on his computer, suggesting he has “a strong interest” in sexual violence against girls, the Associated Press reports. On his computer were a movie titled “Schoolgirls in Cement” and a publication titled “Man Trapping” — a manual on how to hunt people. Federal authorities also found information about date-rape drugs, how to commit murder, arson and kidnapping, as well as a Microsoft Word document detailing Japanese school schedules, said federal prosecutor Melissa Mills, according to Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese news service based in Los Angeles.
At a Friday detention hearing in Los Angeles, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Abrams denied Harris bail, considering him a “flight risk.” His lawyer Steven Seiden denied this claim, saying Friday that all reports of Harris refusing to cooperate with authorities are “completely wrong.” But for the time being, the 28-year-old Harris is detained in California, accused of transporting a prohibited explosive — the smoke grenade — on a plane. The other weapons in his checked luggage were allowed, since they were stored underneath the plane. But for the single charge of transporting hazardous materials, he could face up to five years in federal prison if convicted. He didn’t enter a plea Friday and will stand trial.
A U.S. citizen and Boston University graduate, Harris was most recently teaching English to junior-high school students in Japan. He was arrested at LAX during a stopover on October 5. A Customs and Border Protection agent called him aside for a secondary inspection after finding it odd that he was wearing a bulletproof vest. Authorities later found he was also donning fire-retardant pants and kneepads underneath his trench coat. And then the suspicious collection of weapons was found in his luggage, including a hatchet, a baton, a smoke grenade, multiple knives, three lead-filled billy clubs, a full-face respirator, body bags, a biohazard suit, masks, duct tape, hand cuffs, leg irons, flexi-cuffs, a dog-repelling device, as well as oven mitts and cooking tongs.
Harris’ attorney, Steven Seiden, maintains his client’s innocence. Describing Harris as “timid” and “shy” with no previous criminal or psychological records, Seiden said his client was traveling to Boston for his stepfather’s funeral.
Seiden said the peculiar attire donned by his client was simply a fashion statement shared by young people in Japan. It’s also not illegal to wear on the plane, ABC reports. The attorney said the arsenal of weapons was meant for self-protection, as Harris was previously attacked and mugged on the streets of Boston. Also, Seiden disputed the claim that Harris was carrying body bags, asserting that it was merely a large duffel bag.
“He may delve into a fantasy world in his research and his interests … He may have interests that are not of the norm,” Seiden said, “but that that doesn’t mean he’s carrying out any type of harm to anyone.” Prosecutor Mills said the items “looked like a kidnap kit,” according to the AP.
It’s still a mystery how the smoke grenade — which authorities have determined could easily inundate a standard plane’s cabin with smoke or even fire — passed through security and onto the plane. Harris, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was en route to Boston from Kansai, Japan, and had stopped in South Korea’s Incheon Airport before his second layover at LAX.