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Hunter finds volatile commercial-grade explosives in Mark Twain National Forest

PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Oct. 20, 2015) — A hunter’s foray into the woods to find deer early Saturday morning found something quite different: a box of volatile explosives which Pulaski County Sheriff Ron Long said were very dangerous and could have killed someone who found them and moved them without proper precautions.

“If someone would have attempted to handle or move these explosives from where they were originally discovered, the results would have been devastating to them and anyone that would have been close,” Long said in a prepared statement. “The Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit (EOD) from Fort Leonard Wood was dispatched to the scene, along with the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s EOD Unit and the Waynesville Rural Fire Department. Once the crime scene was processed, the explosives were detonated on site due to being too volatile to move. A small fire resulted from the detonation but was quickly extinguished by the fire department.”

Col. John Groves, the chief deputy for the sheriff’s department, said the items, which were found in the larger containment area of the Mark Twain National Forest, weren’t the sort of ordinary explosives which sometimes turn up near an Army installation. They’re commercial-grade explosives comparable to what might be used by a state highway department for blasting operations.

Federal agencies including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been notified, Groves said.

“This is not something you, I, or anyone else can just walk in and buy,” Groves said. ““We continue to work our own piece of it in conjunction with those other agencies … if they stole it, you’re talking back to federal level crimes. If the intent was to sell, give away, for ill-gotten means you are dealing with federal, not to mention the lower level of state crimes.”

Law enforcement personnel have requested that the specific location not be identified where the explosives were found, beyond stating that they were found along a trail which is commonly used by hunters to reach more remote parts of the Mark Twain National Forest.

“There was an individual that was walking a path that’s normally frequented by deer hunters,” Groves said. “The individual discovered explosives in an open area.”

Call logs show that sheriff’s deputies responded around 9 a.m. Saturday to the scene and quickly determined it was necessary to call for an explosives ordnance disposal team. A robotic device probed the box located by the hunter and found “a bunch of explosives inside.” Original plans called for removing the explosives and detonating them in a remote location, but by 11 a.m., EOD personnel determined “that they are going to have to blow up this box on site because it is too unstable” and needed the fire department to respond. The deputy on scene cautioned that “it is going to be a (redacted) blast and since it is so big we will probably get calls on it.”

Between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., deputies contacted the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the FBI, the BATF, and state and federal conservation and forestry officials to notify them of the situation, as well as federal firefighters. Neighbors in proximity to the site were personally notified, and the box was detonated shortly before 3:30 p.m.

In this case, the explosives were found on a commonly used trail, but Groves said law enforcement personnel appreciate hunting season since their search for deer and other game often leads hunters into places where people rarely go.

“They normally go off the beaten path,” Groves said. “They have a tendency to come across remains of bodies, any type of crime, burned vehicles. We’ve had that happen in the national forest where people have taken stolen vehicles, burned the vehicles and tried to eradicate numbers and things. We wouldn’t normally get a report because it takes specialized vehicles or walking on foot. You need to see it by air during the fall and winter months when there are no leaves, or someone such this walking into particular materials and reporting.”

It’s not uncommon for hunters to find explosives which may date back to the early history of Fort Leonard Wood during World War II. Such items can be particularly dangerous due to their age and instability, Groves said.

“You find a lot of military old hardware around here such as unexploded grenades or various types of C4, things like that, which are fairly easily recognizable,” Groves said. “Stuff that looks like dynamite, the long sticks… of course, then there’s always the homemade bomb where you have pipes with a fuse coming out of them. If you have any doubt, any whatsoever, if you, for instance, see wires hooked up to a suitcase the best thing is don’t touch it, call us.”

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