- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2000

Fire investigators found 21 pipe bombs in a 13-year-old boy's toy box after the youth detonated an additional pipe bomb outside his Temple Hills, Md., apartment Monday night, authorities said.

No one was injured in the blast, and a bomb-diffusing robot disabled the last of the devices inside the apartment yesterday afternoon.

"This is probably the largest [single] seizure of pipe bombs ever in Prince George's County," said Ronald J. Siarnicki, chief of the Prince George's County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

The eighth-grader, meanwhile, was arraigned in juvenile court on multiple charges, including reckless endangerment and manufacturing a destructive explosive device.

He was ordered held without bond until his next court appearance on Sept. 27. If found guilty, the teen-ager could be held at a juvenile facility until age 21, according to the State's Attorney's Office.

The boy has not been identified because of his age. He is the son of a District of Columbia police officer and was dressed in camouflage when arrested.

A computer and a diary have been confiscated as evidence. Officials believe the Internet played a role in making the bombs.

Chief Siarnicki said he does not know why the boy may have stockpiled the explosives.

Firefighters responding to the Heather Hills apartment complex in the 5900 block of Fisher Road about 9:30 p.m. Monday found several windows broken and a damaged parked truck, the chief said.

"They say it sounded like an M-80," complex resident Erinn Cunningham, 27, said yesterday as she sat on her porch and watched the bomb squad.

"It was louder than that," neighbor Wendell Christian, 34, told her. He heard the explosion a half-mile away at a gas station and thought a tree limb fell on a transformer.

Residents of two buildings about 20 apartments were evacuated Monday night and allowed to return to their homes yesterday evening. Some, like Mr. Christian, couldn't go to work because their cars were stuck behind yellow crime scene tape.

Fire department spokesman Mark Brady said the boy likely went outside to a common area to test the pipe bomb. It exploded on the ground.

"He was probably surprised by the amount of damage and noise it made," Mr. Brady said.

The toy box is located in the youth's living room, where he sleeps. His mother told authorities she did not know the explosives were in her one-bedroom apartment. The boy's father does not live with him.

Chief Siarnicki ordered a search of the boy's school, Thurgood Marshall Middle School, with bomb-sniffing canines at about 2:30 a.m. yesterday. No additional pipe bombs were found.

"There was no indication the school was involved, but we took the precautionary step to search his locker," Chief Siarnicki said.

Iris T. Metts, superintendent of Prince George's County schools, said school system psychologists and counselors were on hand at Thurgood Marshall in case students needed "additional support."

A few residents criticized the fire department's handling of the situation, saying officials never notified them about the severity of the case or tried to alleviate their fears.

"We all could have been hurt very badly," said one woman, who did not want to be identified. "I don't even feel safe here."

Said one man: "It's terrible. It could have killed everybody in this complex. They should have evacuated more people."

Pipe bombs are the most simple of explosive devices to make, and thus the most popular for juveniles, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Contrary to the myth that bomb-makers are anti-government loners hunkering down in a cabin out West, ATF statistics show that 34 percent of all bombings from 1993 to 1997 were committed by juveniles, said Mike Campbell, an ATF agent with the Baltimore field office, which is assisting Prince George's authorities with the investigation.

Even among juveniles who commit explosive offenses, there is no surefire profile, Agent Campbell said.

"These kids come from all walks of life," he said. "You have honor roll students all the way down to your gang member."

Bomb-makers need only find anything that causes an explosive reaction from gunpowder to common household chemicals inside a pipe.

Of bombings committed by juveniles, pipe bombs are the most common devices used, he said.

"With the advent of the Internet and published books [about bombs], the instructions are readily available," Agent Campbell said. "These are not difficult devices to construct and make work."

• John Drake contributed to this report.

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