Monday, June 2, 2014
Probe of alleged Bucks County bomb maker continues
Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2014
A 30-year-old Bristol Township man who told police he made bombs as a hobby after they responded to an explosion in his home Monday doesn’t appear to be affiliated with any known terrorist or fringe groups, police said.
But the investigation into Thomas Piscione is continuing and nothing has been ruled out, Lt. Terry Hughes said. Additional charges could be forthcoming, he added.
Bristol Township police have released little information about Piscione since his arrest Monday on charges of risking a catastrophe and reckless endangerment, though Hughes did say Piscione doesn’t have any known military explosives training.
An Amtrak spokesman confirmed Tuesday that Piscione works as a communications and signaling maintainer for the railroad. The job involves maintaining the railway signaling system, which governs train movements.
Police finished removing items from Piscione’s Midwood Lane home under a search warrant Tuesday, Hughes said. Among the items confiscated were more than 100 1-ounce bottles of chemicals that officials said could be used to make explosives. They include copper sulfate, sodium chloride, potassium, magnesium, sodium phosphates and potassium iodine. They also found glass beakers, tubing, and warming plates, which were arranged around workbenches placed against three walls in a back bedroom, Hughes said.
Also confiscated: brass knuckles, an “extreme” pellet gun, a Mossburg 12-gauge shotgun, a .22-revolver, speed loaders for a .357-magnum handgun, threaded pipes and caps, ball bearings, an ammo vest with shotgun shells, various boxes of ammunition, knives, and blow darts. They also found books about making bombs and about serial killers.
Police said they found evidence that Piscione was operating a chemical bomb lab in his Levittown rancher after he detonated an explosive in his fireplace, seriously damaging the home Monday morning. He wasn’t injured in the blast and no one else was home at the time of the explosion and subsequent fire shortly after 1 a.m., police said.
Piscione initially claimed a propane tank had exploded, but fire officials on the scene found indications Piscione was experimenting with bomb-making materials, according to a probable cause affidavit. Police didn’t find any completed bombs or explosive device in the home. After a preliminary police investigation, officials determined the explosion occurred after ammonium nitrate was heated in the home’s fireplace. Piscione claimed the explosion was an accident, Hughes said.
Piscione remains in Bucks County prison in lieu of 10 percent of $1 million bail.
Steve Bartholomew, a spokesman with the Philadelphia Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, confirmed that the ATF is assisting in the Bristol Township investigation.
He said most ATF investigations don’t involve regulated or commercial explosives, but rather crude homemade devices. Federal law requires individuals who buy and sell commercial explosives to be licensed.
Some chemicals or materials that can be used to make explosives are readily available and have other uses. For example, black powder isn’t considered an explosive, but it can be used to make an explosive device, Bartholomew said.
“You can buy cardboard tubes anywhere,” he added. “PVC pipe is available in any hobby store.”
Bomb-making hobbyists aren’t as rare as people might believe, Bartholomew said.
Earlier this month, a 54-year-old Philadelphia artist blew off parts of both hands while playing with a homemade bomb, Bartholomew said. Philadelphia police have charged David Ferrin with possessing weapons of mass destruction, risking a catastrophe and related offenses; the ATF is also investigating that incident.
And last year, former Warrington resident John Grzyminski, 50, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to illegal possession of an unregistered explosive device. He was arrested in May 2012 after his mother and brother found what appeared to be three crude pipe bombs inside his mom’s Saddle Drive home. He later said they were fireworks.
Such crude explosives are extremely volatile and dangerous, according to Bartholomew.
“These devices are not fireworks,” he said.