Homemade chemical bombs found in Fairfax County mailboxes

By Kevin Sieff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 1, 2010

Authorities are warning Fairfax County residents to beware of homemade chemical bombs placed in mailboxes and on front yards of residential areas.

At least eight of the bombs have been found in residential areas of Reston and West Springfield since May, according to the Fairfax County Fire Department.

No one has been injured by the bombs, which are made of over-the-counter chemicals, such as Drano and baking soda.

Residents have discovered flaming water bottles upon opening their mailboxes. In June, Lee-Alison Sibley began removing what appeared to be trash from her mailbox in Great Falls. Smoke started barreling out of a plastic water bottle as soon as she touched it.

"The bottle had already exploded, but some of the chemicals burned my finger," Sibley said. "My middle finger turned black and swelled to twice its size."

Officials from the fire department arrived soon after, asking Sibley who might have done it. "There's no one who has a vendetta against us," said Sibley, a middle school teacher. "It's probably kids who have money and wheels and thought this would be a funny joke."

Some bombs have contained shredded aluminum.

"People think that it's trash, but if they pick it up, the bomb could blow their hand off way too easily," said Sharon Rainey, the head of a community organization called myNeighborsNetwork.

Rainey, along with many other residents, suspects local teenagers are responsible. Hundreds of videos on YouTube explain how to produce similar bombs, she said.

Fairfax police and fire departments are investigating. "This kind of thing tends to be the work of a younger person," said Renee Stilwell, a fire department spokeswoman. "There's no massive explosion, but it makes people feel threatened . . . and it could be dangerous."

The fire and police departments released a bulletin last month warning residents that "the explosions are powerful enough to damage mailboxes and cause potentially serious harm to persons."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company