On the morning of September 6, in what no doubt seemed like a wonderful idea at the time, Kenneth Smith, Jr. called police at Philadelphia International Airport and told them a passenger was carrying drugs onto a Dallas-bound flight. When it became clear that the call-taker wasn't taking his tip sufficiently seriously, he upped the ante and said the passenger was carrying not just drugs but also liquid explosives.
With that, officials sprung into action. The flight, already en route to DFW, was promptly called back to Philadelphia, where it was thronged by heavily armed federal agents. Christopher Shell, a native Texan who was celebrating his 29th birthday, was removed from the plane by a five-member SWAT team and taken into custody.
It didn't take authorities long to determine that Shell was not a terrorist (though he did have an outstanding warrant for marijuana possession). Instead he was the victim of Smith's blindingly brilliant, how-could-anything-possibly-go-wrong revenge scheme.
Over the weekend, 20/20 traced the roots of the September clusterfuck to 3 Brothers Pizza & Pasta, an Italian joint in North Philly. That's where Smith, 26, fell for and began dating "Carmela," a 19-year-old coworker who declined the news magazine's interview request.
Shell entered the picture a bit later and supplanted Smith as Carmela's favored suitor. The two men never met but did once engage in a fearsome "testosterone-fueled slapdown" online, per 20/20.
Carmela soon dumped Shell, too, at which point he thought it would be a good idea to post a naked picture of Carmela to Facebook. ("The Facebook photo was there to say 'Hey. See you later. I had my fun. Bye,'" Shell told 20/20.)
Smith, in turn, thought calling in a bomb threat was the perfect way to defend his former girlfriend's honor. Given time to reflect, Smith later concluded this was "completely moronic," as he told his interviewer.
For his ill-advised phone call, Smith now faces up to 15 years in federal prison. Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to two felonies and agreed to pay U.S. Airways $25,000 in restitution.
As part of the deal, Smith will also be required to pen letters of apology to each of the 69 passengers and five crew members who were on board the Dallas-bound aircraft.
He told Philly.com that he was truly, deeply sorry. Going on 20/20 was his way of showing that. It must have been a similar impulse that led him to admit to confess to the judge at Monday's hearing that he had smoked marijuana two days before. He promised to stop.