19-year-old pleads guilty in ‘Fight Club’ inspired explosion at New York City Starbucks

Friday, September 17, 2010

19-year-old pleads guilty in NYC coffee shop blast

NEW YORK — A 19-year-old pleaded guilty Friday to an attempted arson at a New York City Starbucks coffee shop in a pre-dawn blast that was inspired by the movie “Fight Club.”

Kyle Shaw also pleaded guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon in a deal that will send him to prison for 3½ years when he is sentenced Nov. 16. He faced a minimum 15 years and maximum 25 years in prison had he been convicted by a jury of more serious arson charges.

The explosion near the Guggenheim museum on the Upper East Side on Memorial Day last year shattered windows at the Starbucks but caused no injuries.

Shaw only said one word, “Yes,” when Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon asked if he intentionally damaged the shop and knew there were people in the coffee shop who could’ve been harmed in the prank.

His parents attended court but didn’t comment. His attorney noted that Shaw, who was 17 at the time of the blast and a recent high school graduate, had no criminal record. He also will face five years of supervision when he is released from prison.

Authorities said Shaw was trying to emulate the character named Tyler Durden in the 1999 film about a secret club where men beat each other up in an attempt to feel more alive. Brad Pitt played the role of Durden, who orchestrates escalating attacks on symbols of corporate America.

Shaw formed his own fight club in which boys beat one another in various places around the city, including Central Park, investigators said.

He told at least one friend to “watch the news over Memorial Day” because he was about to launch his own version of “project mayhem,” which in the movie means a series of bombings in buildings around the country. Police investigated, but no other blasts were linked, and no one else arrested.

Police had said Shaw chose the coffee shop because a Starbucks is a target in the movie. It wasn’t clear why the specific Starbucks was chosen; there are dozens around the city.

The blast occurred around 3:30 a.m. on May 25, 2009. A witness reported seeing two people, one blond, running from the scene. The device that caused the explosion was made of fireworks powder, a plastic bottle, a metal cap and electrical tape. It was set off with a hand-lit fuse.

Investigators recovered homemade bomb materials, a copy of “Fight Club,” a box of sparklers and a newspaper clipping about the attack from Shaw’s home.

The Starbucks Corp., based in Seattle, is the world’s largest gourmet coffee retailer, with more than 15,000 stores, according to a 2008 profile on its website. The company has said it didn’t believe its store was hit intentionally.

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