Posted by: carlbrannen | August 21, 2008

Bombs in Grant County

Grant County has something like 30,000 people. How many bomb incidents do you suppose a rural county that size could generate? We’ve had 5 serious pipe bomb incidents recently, 4 of them in August alone, and 2 fatalities.

To put this into perspective, in Northern Ireland, between 1998 and 2002, 4 people were killed by pipe bombs. Of these, the authorities think that 2 were targets and 2 were manufacturers.

The first recent Grant County incident was an unexploded pipe bomb discovered on the banks of an irrigation canal. That was around 3 months ago. Then two weeks ago, a pick-up truck was completely destroyed by a pipe bomb. And now two men have been killed in explosions just 11 hours apart by pipe bombs. And the most recent incident was an undetonated propane / pipe bomb combination.

Pipe Bombs

Grant County Undersheriff John Turley says that “Finding pipe bombs is not that unusual,” “We find them every now and then,” “It’s been quite a while since we had one.”

The manufacture of pipe bombs is not that uncommon in rural America. Wikipedia has what appears to be complete instructions that if you naively follow, are likely to kill you. My understanding is that in the US, most bombs are built by juvenile males who wish to make big noises, and that this is amazingly common in rural areas. In fact, our waiter at dinner tonight vouched that he knew people who had assembled pipe bombs. His opinion seemed to be that the 69 and 53-year-old Grant County victims were killed while assembling bombs, and from the complaints in comment sections of the local newspaper blogs, I suspect this opinion is fairly common in Moses Lake and is vocally expressed to the survivors.

I find this just amazingly difficult to believe. I really am in awe. By the time you reach 25 or 30, about the time your car insurance starts decreasing, a male should have completely lost the inclination to do extraordinarily dangerous stunts like this; testosterone declining and all that. Maybe there’s something in the water here. Or the food.

Pipe Bomb Makers

Making explosions in the desert sometimes progresses to bored kids blowing up outhouses and the like. If you’re curious, save yourself the felony conviction and watch the many self-incriminating videos (like this one) on you-tube instead. These videos are stunningly common. If you’re interested in doing this, do review: Man blows up leg with pipe bomb (You Tube). What an idiot.

I would guess the bomb on the irrigation canal was of the juvenile hobbiest sort. At the location of the second death listed above, that of the 53-year-old, the police say they found “bomb making material”. That would be pipe, end caps, fuzes, timers, and, judging by the smell of sulphur noticed at one of the explosions, black powder. But as it turns out, the police aren’t saying they’ve found anything explosive, just building material in buckets. I would infer that the police did find a suitable explosive but are keeping quiet for various reasons. Also, on execution of a search warrant, the police found meth in the house. In general, drugs and alcohol do not make you smarter, and they probably do not make you a safer pipe bomb builder.

The other death in Grant County was of a 69-year-old grandfather in his shop. It is suspicious in several ways, particularly in that it is claimed that the lights were out when the explosion went off, and that the victim always kept the lights on while working in his shop. What is going on there? And he was a grandfather with no obvious relation to meth or inclination to building bombs. Homicide? What could the victim have done to attract a bomb attack? His family has no idea. And why bomb the workshop? Apparently he was holding the bomb when it went off. To me, if it were not for the fact that it was one of two deaths in 24 hours, it sounds suspiciously like suicide. I guess we will have to wait for the investigation.


A point at which many people get hurt with pipe bombs is in screwing on the caps. Adding things like nails to the inside of the bomb increases the likelihood of friction or a spark setting it off. Gunpowder (or whatever) in the threads can ignite when the pipes are tightened, killing the assembler, and there can be chemical reactions between the metal, or impurities on the metal, and the explosive mixture.

How Far Away is Safe?
A typical pipe bomb fragment is supposed to travel at around 500 m/sec (1500 ft/sec). Worst case could be faster. This is 50% faster than a 0.22 rifle bullet and you do not know what direction the fragments will go. In addition, a substantial piece, like an end cap, could weigh more than a 0.50 caliber heavy machine gun slug. It can kill a few miles from the explosion. Getting hit by a pipe bomb fragment is like getting hit by an extremely large caliber rifle round.

So how far should you be away from a pipe-bomb? This depends on how safe you want to be. Distance decreases the probability of your being hit because your body subtends a smaller angle. Eventually you are so far away that fragments cannot reach you. And that distance would likely be so far away that the thrill of the explosion would be negligible.

A really smart person will arrange to be very far away from an exploding pipe bomb. How far? Well, four kids discovered that 120 feet was not far enough. One was killed, one went to jail (involuntary manslaughter), the other two went to juvenile court.



  1. […] danger, and age needs to keep them from getting hurt. Surely practicing with swords is safer than playing with gunpowder, and a lot of other things, and a good use of youthful […]

  2. Ok!!!! First off The 69 year old man was my Grandpa!!! I really don’t like this article one bit! it is disrespectful to my grandpa!!! 1~~ He didn’t make bombs and wouldn’t of been making it!!! and 2~~ He would of never wanted to commit suicide. I think that this is very rude! how would you feel if this was your Grandpa that was killed by a pipe bomb for no reason and then you read this!! He was the nicest old man there ever was! He had nothing to do with drugs or anything of that sort! He always helped anyone who ever needed help!! We don’t think it was meant for him and the stuff you wrote in this article its just flat out mean for you to say about a man that you didn’t even know!!

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