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Bolivia Bomb Suspect 'Own Worst Enemy'
Northern California native served time in state youth and mental facilities and six months in Argentina for a 2005 blast at a bank.

By Patrick J. McDonnell and Lee Romney, Times Staff Writers March 26, 2006

BUENOS AIRES — As a defiant youngster in rural California, he spat at a judge, spent years in juvenile lockups and psychiatric institutions and was suspected of blowing up a telephone booth.

As an adult, he decamped to South America, where he posted Internet messages seeking female companionship, became infatuated with a Uruguayan hairdresser 21 years his senior and was jailed for six months for bombing a bank in Argentina.

He described himself as a pagan high priest, a lawyer, a philosopher. He adopted the name of a literary vampire.

Finally, he ended up in the rough-and-tumble dynamite trade in Bolivia, distributing a racy promotional calendar that featured his girlfriend posing in the buff amid a cache of explosives.

But none of Triston Jay Amero's previous misadventures compare to his current predicament: Amero, 24, and his Uruguayan companio n are in custody in Bolivia facing murder charges in connection with bombings at wo hotels that killed two people and wounded seven others last week in the capital, La Paz.

As grave as the blasts were, the matter escalated into an international incident when Bolivia's outspoken president, Evo Morales, cited the possible involvement of a U.S. government eager to undermine his new socialist administration, which at times has been openly hostile to Washington.

"This American was putting bombs in hotels," Morales told reporters. "The U.S. government fights terrorism, and they send us terrorists."

U.S. officials dismissed any link to the bombings, and Bolivian investigators said the bomber may well have been mentally deranged or had vague "religious" motives.

At the center of this unlikely imbroglio is Amero, a paunchy, ponytailed, Internet-blabbing native of Northern California with sociopathic tendencies and a fierce rage against a system he views as victimizing him. He also has a thing for explosives.

"He was a troubled, probably fairly bright individual," said Joseph Warchol, chief probation officer of El Dorado County in Northern California, where the teenage Amero first went astray of the law.

While Amero was in juvenile hall, Warchol recalled, he cut himself and scribbled threats on the wall in his own blood.

Amero's rebel-without-a-cause fury aggravated the significance of relatively minor juvenile offenses. He peppered the California Youth Authority with nearly 20 lawsuits, assailing the "dread Court" and claiming his civil rights had been violated. He made constant threats to those in power, addressing menacing missives to his overseers and at one point spitting in the face of a juvenile judge — an act he later ascribed to "political reasons."

Said Warchol: "He was his own worst enemy…. He just had an uncontrollable mouth."

Amero is a native of Butte County, a rural pastiche of farmland, forested hills and suburban settlements north of Sacramento.

In comments to authorities, Amero said he never advanced beyond second grade and was kicked out of elementary school. "I absolutely despise formal academic curriculum," Amero declared in one statement. "I am a lone wolf, when it comes to studying."

He said he was committed to a psychiatric institution as a youth and diagnosed with a sociopathic personality disorder, among other maladies.

By age 14, he was questioned as a suspect in the bombing of a phone booth outside a market in the small town of Magalia. Much of his teenage years were spent in and out of juvenile detention sites, where he declared a "war of wills" between himself and authorities.

"They wanted to change me in their image," Amero said. "I knew that the only way … I could get out of that kind of a program is to raise hell."

Once freed, Amero launched his expansive Internet life, casting his online persona as a "Wiccan High Priest" fed up with "Bible-mongering Christians" and adept at discerning the metaphysical forces of good and evil.

Reviewing a treatise titled "Satanic Rituals," Amero cautioned against emulating such rites, but agreed with the author's assessment "on the state of society: In short, that most people tend to be scum."

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