PITTSFIELD — A 17-year-old boy from Pittsfield has confessed to placing a sophisticated bomb in a Detroit gravel pit, state police Trooper Paul Stewart said late Friday.
The bomb was discovered on Thursday, but the boy had built the device nearly two weeks ago and had been playing with it in his bedroom, said Stewart.
The youth had built the bomb “just to see if he could do it,” said the trooper. The youth used black powder taken from his father and had read books to find out how to put the complicated bomb together.
“He built it using a clock, a timer and batteries,” said Stewart. “But after it was placed in the gravel pit, it didn’t go off.” The boy told Stewart he thought the batteries had gone dead.
“He said he just didn’t think about some child coming along and disturbing the bomb and getting seriously injured,” said Stewart.
Another 17-year-old from Burnham participated in the bomb placement. Stewart said he is still investigating a larger group of boys that were aware of the bomb. The trooper said he is referring the case to the Somerset County District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution.
The bomb is just the latest in a summer full of exploding devices in Maine that have maimed and injured and have left police fearful, said Trooper Frank “Joe” Poirier III, one of two specially trained troopers assigned to the investigation.
Poirier said the bomb found in a Detroit gravel pit Thursday was “a soft package bomb,” which means its exterior was cardboard or some other soft material, in contrast to a pipe bomb or a bomb hidden inside a metal container. The Detroit bomb also had a sophisticated electrical detonation device, he said.
The explosive device was discovered by a Burnham man who asked not to be identified.
The man said he called police after spotting “a package all wrapped in duct tape just sitting on the sand bank.”
“It was out of place,” said the man. “It was out of place, you know, like it had been placed there, not thrown away like rubbish.” The bomb was detonated at the scene by Poirier later that day.
Poirier said he is concerned about the summerlong rise in bomb incidents, most which occurred before a pipe bomb exploded at the Olympic Games in Atlanta last month.
At least three Maine juveniles have been injured by homemade bombs this summer, said the trooper.
A teen-age boy in Harmony built a cannon that discharged as the boy was walking away from it, Poirier said. The projectile entered the boy’s buttock and lodged itself in his pelvic area, causing serious injuries.
Another teen-age boy in Wiscasset built a pipe bomb that exploded when he was handling it. Shrapnel entered his chest wall and exited through his armpit, amputating his left arm.
Medway Police Chief Phil Cram lost most of his right hand in late July when a homemade bomb he had allegedly created and took fishing blew up in his hand.
Also in July, a pipe bomb was found in a duffel bag in front of a Bangor business and another pipe bomb exploded outside a Lisbon church.
In Old Town, Houlton and other towns, bomb threats, which must be treated as real by police, have recently forced evacuation of a supermarket and offices.
The Maine State Police Bomb Team, created in 1994 when the Brunswick Naval Air Station bomb team disbanded, received 33 calls for service in 1994. In 1995, the two-man, two-dog team responded to 24 calls.
“We are already way past that this year,” said Stephen McCausland, Maine State Police spokesman. Stewart said the state police have handled more than 40 bomb incidents already this year.
Poirier and Detective Tim Culbert make up the team, while two more troopers are undergoing training, said McCausland.
The Bangor Police Department is the only municipal department with its own bomb squad. Detective Fred Clarke of the Bangor team said he has seen a few incidents over the past couple of months but “they are not very sophisticated. It looks like experimentation.”
No injuries from homemade explosives have been reported in the city, he said, but he added that injuries could be attributed to some other activity, because people might not admit to having illegal explosives.
“It is also troubling how readily available the instructions and materials to make bombs are,” said McCausland. Information is as close as the public library or an Internet connection.
Poirier said children are getting black powder from their parents’ gun chests, dismantling bullets for powder, taking apart legal and illegal fireworks and using other readily available supplies to make the bombs.
“We are very troubled by the increased number of incidents and that most of them involve juveniles,” said Poirier.
“These kids first start with tiny firecrackers, move on to larger, more powerful fireworks and when they get bored, they experiment with making pipe bombs,” said the trooper.
Clarke said, “The means have always been there for people to make bombs, but now the information on how is getting out.
“It is getting easier and easier,” said the Bangor detective. “Walk into any bookstore and pick up a survivalist magazine. You can buy books on how to make just about any kind of explosive. You can even purchase a video on how to make a hand grenade.”
McCausland said: “The calls for the bomb team have definitely increased. This is a very, very disturbing trend.”