CENTERBURG — Three incidents involving homemade bottle bombs found in Centerburg mailboxes have occurred in the last week. The issue has officials concerned because it’s a federal crime and because someone may get seriously injured.
A bottle bomb was found by a homeowner Sunday in a local mailbox and it had damaged the mailbox. Two more were found on Tuesday in two boxes that are part of a bank of mailboxes.
The postal carrier reported that one of the bombs had gone off and the other one had failed but was leaking the chemical contents into the mailbox. Both mailboxes will need to be replaced.
Central Ohio Joint Fire District Chief Joe Porter said there were incidents several years ago with perpetrators leaving the 2-liter bottle bombs in yards but the bottles in these mailbox incidents are smaller 16 to 20 ounce bottles. The smaller bottles are a bigger concern because they are being put in a confined space where people won’t know they are there until the mailbox is opened.
Typically a bottle bomb is made with toilet bowl cleaner and foil and subsequently is sometimes called a “Works Bomb” or “Drano Bomb, “ but Porter said the contents of the bombs in Centerburg have not been chemically identified yet.
The expectation is that the bottle will explode in approximately 30 seconds after being sealed in the bottle, but the reaction can be unpredictable. The bombs statistically are attributed to teen-aged boys and for unexplained reasons typically in the eastern United States.
There is also the issue that mailboxes are considered federal property. Federal law states that it is a crime to vandalize or destroy mailboxes. Violators can be fined stiff financial penalties, and incur jail time and hours of community service.
Centerburg Postmaster Myla Hostetler said that she has notified the Postal Inspector Service and other post offices in the area alerting them to the issue.
“My goal,” she said, “is to tell people in Centerburg to be careful when they open their mailboxes.” She is also concerned for the safety of anyone in contact with the bottles.
She has already held a safety service talk with her mail carriers and encourages other post offices to do the same. And she hopes the perpetrators understand, “It’s gone beyond prank. You could permanently disfigure someone.”
Porter shares that concern. A homeowner or mail carrier could drive up to a mailbox and open the door and their face would be at eye level with chemical explosives.
“We’re set up for the next time,” said Porter, “to do what we can to get a sample of the contents and get it to Delaware to be analyzed.”
Parents are encouraged to speak with their youth about safety and consequences. And if anyone else finds a bottle in their mailbox, they are encouraged to touch nothing and call 9-1-1.