Arson case at complex continues

By Nick Dean

A Baylor student who lived at The Outpost apartments is the subject of an ongoing investigation of what appears to be the construction of a bomb at the student’s apartment on Oct. 16.

The Waco Fire Department was called to the apartment complex after a kitchen fire was reported. Firemen found the in-house sprinkler system had quelled the fire, and they began a second sweep of the apartment to ensure all flames were extinguished.

According to an incident report written by Fire Marshal Kevin Fisk and obtained by the Lariat through the Texas Public Information Act, officials found a potential explosive device standing upright on the counter of the apartment’s kitchen.

Fisk’s report described it as “an item resembling some type of incendiary device” that was found inside the apartment along with supplemental components during the second inspection.

Lt. Jeff Pruitt of the Waco Fire Department described the device as a 1-by-3-inch tube filled with a substance with a fuse trailing out to the top of the tube.

Fisk then called for further assistance and, according to the incident report, several local departments, including the crime scene unit of the Waco Police Department and the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, assisted in the incident and investigation.

On Oct. 18, the former Waco Police Department public information officer, Sgt. Melvin Roseborough, told the Lariat that no Waco officers had been at the 2415 S. University Parks address during the entire weekend of Oct. 16.

On the night of the incident, the fire department called in investigators from the Waco Fire Marshall’s Office upon the discovery of the device. When Fisk entered the apartment, he noticed one-half to three-fourths of an inch of water on the laminate wood flooring. In the kitchen, near the sink, Fisk saw an empty paper towel roll standing vertical with a green fuse coming out of the top of the tube and running down the side.

In the sink was a saucepan with a “carbonated substance caked on the bottom,” Fisk’s report stated. He also found black plastic bottles labeled Spectricide Stump remover, fire starter sticks, two rolls of fuse, a black pocketknife, multiple empty beer cans and black and gray tape.

On the counter across from the stove sat a bag of granulated sugar and a wet, empty paper towel roll with cuts along the top that, Fisk observed, “would not normally be found on an unadulterated cardboard roll.”

After he left the scene, Fisk details that he requested an additional Waco police officer and an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician.

While authorities were strategizing a way to handle the situation, the only man present in the house received medical assistance and talked with several firemen.

Fisk’s report states that firemen soon noticed burns on the man after first talking with him and the man was sent to Engine 4 for treatment. Eventually, he was sent to Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center.

The man told the firemen he was “chemist and that he was cooking a smoke bomb on the stove and it exploded into flames.” He said he was making a smoke bomb based on a recipe he found online, according to the incident report.

After talking with several firemen, the surrounding buildings were evacuated. The Outpost Apartment’s management sent an alert text message to its residents explaining which buildings needed to be evacuated. Soon after, Deputies Steve Smith and Bud Koen of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office deployed the robot to defuse the device.

The device was exposed to a “water disruption device” and the deputies determined that it was safe for officers to re-enter the apartment and residents to return to their apartments.

Officers seized as evidence a computer tower — because the man had said he found the bomb “recipe” online — along with the saucepan in the sink, a video camera, netbook, Netgear Wireless Router and the fire starters found in the kitchen.

Fisk noted in his report that the fire only visibly damaged the “front portion of the upper cabinetry” in the apartment’s kitchen.

On Oct. 17, Fisk contacted Special Agent Doug Kunze of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who suggested the department secure the apartment until further investigation.

The 19th District Court granted the Fire Marshal’s Office a search warrant on Oct. 19 that granted access to the “common areas” of the apartment and the man’s bedroom.

That day, six ATF special agents, two McLennan County Sheriff’s Office deputies, the Waco HAZ MAT team and four firemen — including Fisk — re-entered the apartment.

The investigators seized 11 more items, which were held at the Waco Fire Department until they were transferred to the Waco Police Department because it is the only law enforcement office with a space for the evidence, Officer Steven Anderson, interim Waco Police Department public information officer, said.

The investigators logged several digital media storage devices, a can of “Blazer” compressed butane gas, personal notes, green hobby fuse and an invoice showing purchased items such as fuse, mortar tube and Mystical Fire, a product that changes the color of fire flames.

On Oct. 21, Fisk filed his report on the investigation, in which he concluded the evidence constituted an act of arson on the man’s part.

“It is this investigator’s belief that [the man] did knowingly and intentionally engage in a dangerous activity, namely combining chemicals, ingredients, and a heat source while manufacturing an incendiary device,” Fisk wrote.

“Furthermore, it is this investigator’s belief that any reasonable person having received higher, collegiate level courses in chemistry would know that combining potassium nitrate (the spectracide stump remover) a fuel source (sugar) and applying heat during the process, expect a reacting resulting in a flash fire or explosion; endangering the lives and property of others. … This constitutes arson and will continue to be investigated as such.”

Texas information law used for obtaining documents

After the Waco Police Department’s public information officer denied any Waco police presence at the crime scene, the Lariat filed an open records request with the Waco Police Department for all police reports filed between Oct. 16 and Oct. 18.

Waco PD requested an opinion from the Texas attorney general, citing that the records were exempt from public disclosure.

The office instructed the police department to withhold some information — including motor vehicle information and Social Security numbers.

However, the attorney general’s office also found inconsistencies in portions of the police department’s exceptions request because the department claimed the information requested by the Lariat was part of ongoing investigations, while the attorney general’s office found that some of the information was actually part of closed cases.

“Because you have provided this office with contradictory representations, we find that you have failed to demonstrate the applicability of section 552.108(a)(1) and 552.108(a)(2),” the AG ruling reads. “Accordingly, the department may not withhold any of the submitted information under section 552.108 of the Government Code.

Among the documents received from the police department after the attorney general’s ruling was the incident report for the case at the Outpost apartments, which was filed on Oct. 21 by Fisk.

The incident report shows that several members of the Waco Police Department had been called to the scene of the incident on Oct. 16. Waco Police worked with county and city officials on the investigation.

Roseborough has since been promoted in the department and is no longer the public information officer. While the department looks for a replacement, Anderson has filled the role. He told the Lariat that Roseborough may have said no one had been to the complex that weekend because officers were working in assistance with the Fire Marshal’s Office and the reports weren’t required.

“When he is looking for our involvement, if none of our officers made a written report, then it would not be our place to comment on any case not filed by us,” Anderson said.

The police and fire department share the same records system and Anderson is able to see the fire department’s reports; however, he said it is not the place of his position to speak on those reports.

“If one our officers had found something not related to the fire, then our guys would have made a case report then. That weekend, the only thing that happened at that complex that wasn’t related to that incident is that the management called in guys jumping over a fence,” Anderson said.

However, the crime scene unit of the Waco Police Department filed a report at 8 p.m. Oct. 17 that Anderson said Roseborough could have seen when questioned by the Lariat on Oct. 18.

“Because the case had not come to some conclusion, by law we cannot discuss any evidence found. But, yeah, he could have said — if the report had been made — that yes, one of our crime scene units went down to help the fire marshal in the collection of evidence,” Anderson said.

Fisk said the investigation is ongoing and no further information can be discussed.