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United States Crime

DIY Explosives Experimenter Blows Self Up, Contaminates Building (fdlreporter.com) 366

Long-time Slashdot reader hey! writes: Benjamin D. Morrison of Beaver Dam Wisconsin was killed on March 5 while synthesizing explosives in his apartment... The accident has left the apartment building so contaminated that it will be demolished in a controlled burn, and residents are not being allowed in to retrieve any of their belongings.
It was just five years ago that Morrison graduated from Pensacola Christian College in Florida with a degree in pre-pharmacy and minors in chemistry and math. Though a local reverend believes 28-year-old Morrison was "not a bomb maker," USA Today's site FDL Reporter notes that "Officials assume he was making bombs that accidentally exploded and killed him... They have not publicly disclosed what chemicals were in apartment 11 where Morrow lived, only describing them as 'extremely volatile and unstable explosives.'"
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DIY Explosives Experimenter Blows Self Up, Contaminates Building

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  • Florida man (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    strikes again.

    • He was from Wisconsin. He only went to college in Florida. Florida's humid climate is not a good place to make explosives, since you get more bang for the buck when you can fully desiccate.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 17, 2018 @03:44PM (#56276245)

    I'm helping by keeping them in my thoughts and prayers.

    Everyone should help in this matter by doing this.

    This is the most helpful thing that can be done.

  • beliefs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @03:46PM (#56276255)

    The man just blew himself up with explosives he made yet...

    local reverend believes 28-year-old Morrison was "not a bomb maker,"

    I wonder if the reverend believes anything else that flies in the face of reality

    • Re:beliefs (Score:5, Insightful)

      by olsmeister ( 1488789 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @03:52PM (#56276289)
      While I understand what you've teed up here, and I choose not to swing at that particular pitch, I do have to wonder why a 'reverend' is commenting on this. Anyway, my dad was a chemistry major in college among other things, and so had a lot of textbooks lying around when I was a kid. I remember looking through them to see if I could find a recipe for something that would go boom.

      I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that the guy is a terrorist. He may just have been playing around.
      • Re:beliefs (Score:5, Insightful)

        by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @03:56PM (#56276301)

        I remember some of the stuff that I had in a chemistry set back in the 60's that I got for Christmas when I was 10. It would get me on a watch list today if I ordered that stuff. I did blow some stuff up back then but it was out in the back 40, not in my house. My mom didn't let me cook up stuff in her kitchen.

        • And if all his neighbors weren't unable to retrieve any of they possessions and now homeless, people would care less that he blew himself up.

          Not everyone was born in a 1960's farmhouse.

        • A friend had a chemistry set with KmN04 and glycerine. He put the potassium in an ant hole then the glycerine. Poof! Ant volcano.
          • Re:beliefs (Score:4, Interesting)

            by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @04:53PM (#56276603)

            I dug up a fire ant colony once when I was a kid. It's amazing, the Queen was almost 30 feet away from the mound. That pile of dirt is just that, where they put the dirt. I had a spray bottle of Chlordane that I had mixed up (instant death and now illegal) that I used to keep them from eating me up as I dug down the tunnels until I found the main nest. Interesting and informative. I discovered that when you pour poison on the mound they just dump the dirt somewhere else. The Queen never has to move. I use a bait now, it's pretty effective. I was the type of kid that was always wondering about things, nearly killed myself on multiple occasions.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by TheReaperD ( 937405 )

        Fireworks is a very common thing that looks like your making explosives (because, well, YOU ARE!) but, has no nefarious purpose other than legal fireworks suck.

        • Except that gunpowder isn't a volatile explosive material.

          Explosive, yes, volatile, no.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          I wish they would ban sales of fireworks to the public. Some official ones are more than enough.

          Twice a year at least we get random explosions all week. Freaks out pets and other animals, and sometimes kids use them as RPGs.

      • This. He died making explosives. We don't (yet) know whether he was making a bomb.

        I expect there will be an investigation that will seek his motives and mind-set -- interviewing friends and family, examining his posts on social media, and so on. For now, we have the supposition (until proven otherwise) of officials that he was making bombs, and the opinion of a reverend (who supposedly knew him) that he was not.

        • Re:beliefs (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert&slashdot,firenzee,com> on Saturday March 17, 2018 @04:40PM (#56276533) Homepage

          He died dealing with volatile compounds, wether he was intentionally making explosives or not is unknown. The volatile state may have been an intermediate state of production, or may have been the result of an error during his process. It's not proven yet if explosive compounds were his intended end product.

          • Good point. Thanks for the improvement. And let's wait to see what the investigation turns up.

          • That's fair. I've heard that meth labs can create powerful explosions if things go wrong [youtube.com] and I've heard that many of the chemicals are not safe to be around and can cause serious damage to humans who are exposed to them. No idea if that's the case here (if it were exactly that you'd think they'd have said it was a meth lab, but I suppose it could be some other kind of drug) but there may be other explanations beyond bomb-making.
      • Whenever something of this nature happens, there's a rush in the media to be the first to dig up some exclusive detail. This usually means chasing after all of the friends and family in the hope of a juicy quote. Church leaders are a good place to look, as some of them - the ones who actually care about their community, rather than just building up the numbers and the tithes to line their own pockets - try to maintain some level of personal relationship with all the church regulars.

    • The reverend's statement would have been 100% correct had he not left out a single word. "28-year-old Morrison was not a GOOD bomb maker".

    • Things he could have been doing that resulted in a bomb without being a bomb maker:

      1) Cooking with a pressure cooker. See Instant Pot
      2) Making home made fireworks
      3) Anything involving certain metals (sodium) and water.
      4)sugar and a whole bunch of other chemicals.

      Frankly, there are a LOT of explosive chemical reactions.

      • He was also a trained chemist, so his hobbies may have included chemistry too. It might be he was just carrying out some dangerous reaction for the fun of it, and screwed it up rather badly.

    • I wonder if the reverend believes anything else that flies in the face of reality.

      In discussions with deists, I have sometimes heard them deny that there is an objective reality.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    PETN is decently easy to make, if the drying is done wrong it is radically sensitized, and the precursors are easy to find.

    Given the FBI's records for creating "bombers" and then busting them, I do wonder what the FBI's involvement was beforehand with this guy.

    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      I remember we had a "militia" group in Georgia a couple of decades ago. A bunch of loudmouths who got together to drink beer and bitch about the "Gubmint" and shoot guns at targets. They had a guy join up and he had all kinds of neat ideas about how to build bombs. He helped them source some stuff and build the bombs then they were arrested. I felt no pity for them, anyone building bombs needs to be in jail.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      As a pharmacy student he'd be familiar with PETN, which has similar medical applications to nitroglycerin. I'm not sure though why it would require abandoning the building and most of its contents.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 17, 2018 @03:50PM (#56276273)

    Reminds me of an old part of an old blog: Things I won't work with.

    http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pi... [sciencemag.org]

    I'm guessing something with fluoride chemistry:

    http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pi... [sciencemag.org]

    It's a really fun read about a shockingly horrible bit of chemistry done by our military science.

  • by stevegee58 ( 1179505 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @04:00PM (#56276327) Journal
    ...until he blew himself up.
    • Yuk yuk. Now let's look at TFA:

      “I’d love to defend Ben because he has been described as a bomb maker and he’s not a bomb maker,” [Reverend] Marsden said. “He wasn’t a recluse as some have said he is. He was far from that.”

      Emphasis mine.

    • ...until he blew himself up.

      So you're saying he got mad over something that wasn't working right and ... went to pieces over it?

      Too early? If I wait a week you'll forget about it; if I wait two weeks then I can't comment anymore. Come back and read it in a month or two -- it'll be funnier then and he'll still be dead. If you wait MUCH longer than that, then ..... ohhh, never mind.

  • Since it happened in America, I'm waiting for the rave that will inevitably follow in this building (complete with pyrotechnic effects).
  • Fishy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @04:05PM (#56276355) Journal

    How unstable can the remaining stuff be? I mean it obviously did not detonate when the fist blast went off.

    My guess if the FBI is covering something up.

    • Re:Fishy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rudy_wayne ( 414635 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @04:31PM (#56276489)

      Yeah, I don't get the "we have to burn down the entire building". Won't that send dangerous chemicals into the air? Wouldn't it make more sense to tear down the building and send all the materials to a landfill for hazardous chemicals? Something seems fishy here.

      • by xlsior ( 524145 )
        ...And who knows what else he has stockpiled elsewhere in his apartment that didn't blow up... yet.
      • Yeah, I don't get the "we have to burn down the entire building". Won't that send dangerous chemicals into the air?

        If the burn is done right, it destroys the chemicals. That's "if" though.

        Wouldn't it make more sense to tear down the building and send all the materials to a landfill for hazardous chemicals?

        Who would tear down the building? If it is as dangerous are reported, that would require people in Hazmat suits for weeks, months to tear down the building. Then the second half of your plan is to send hazardous material to a landfill. Most of these repositories take in solids and liquids and encase them in domes. They don't take in drywall, wood, plastic, etc. The dome would be considerably large if they had to take in ruble of a buil

        • Yeah, I don't get the "we have to burn down the entire building". Won't that send dangerous chemicals into the air?

          If the burn is done right, it destroys the chemicals. That's "if" though.

          This is why all barrels of hazardous chemicals are disposed of by incineration, and we don't have to actually have any landfills for hazardous chemicals.

          Wouldn't it make more sense to tear down the building and send all the materials to a landfill for hazardous chemicals?

          Who would tear down the building? If it is as dangerous are reported, that would require people in Hazmat suits for weeks, months to tear down the building. Then the second half of your plan is to send hazardous material to a landfill. Most of these repositories take in solids and liquids and encase them in domes. They don't take in drywall, wood, plastic, etc. The dome would be considerably large if they had to take in ruble of a building.

          Funny, I've looked into buying a house where, if it burned down or I decided to have significant work done on it, I would have to send the rubble produced to a hazardous waste landfill, because asbestos. (This is also why I decided I wanted nothing to do with it.) You have to look around a bit, but given I was able to find several sites local to me that a

          • by HiThere ( 15173 )

            My wild guess:
            His apartment, and the area immediately adjacent is contaminated with hazardous chemicals that also happen to be inflammable. If they take out his apartment, the rest of the building is structurally unsound. So they decided the simplest and cheapest approach is to burn it. This is making the presumption that he wasn't using anything that would survive a fire, but perhaps if he was making explosives that's a reasonable assumption. (Well, OK, he'd have some sulfuric acid, etc. but the explos

      • Hard to say. This was a trained chemist, so he might have been dabbling in hobby chemistry. It's possible the investigators just found his stock of big jars of chemicals now shattered and decided it would be safer to destroy the entire building than call in a team of experts able to identify and dispose it all - and burning down the building is a lot cheaper than safely demolishing it when you'd need everyone on the site dressed in full hazmat gear. If you can't identify the chemicals, you have to assume th

        • by CODiNE ( 27417 )

          Yet another amateur alchemist trying to create the homunculus. There's booby traps in them old books.

        • My guess is that there was a ton of smoke from burning chemicals after the blast, and it spread through most of the other units. So there's your nice dress, only you can't touch it. Maybe it causes blisters. I knew someone who did professional fireworks and they always use gloves because of the minor irritation some of the chemicals have. Now if it were a major irritant, a carcinogen, etc, it's just not safe.

        • Re:Fishy (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Alypius ( 3606369 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @06:52PM (#56277101)
          I posit lawsuits as a driving factor. Door #1 has "condemn the building as an EPA SuperFund site and settle up with the insurance companies after they pay out." Door #2 says, "Be stuck with the medical bills after we cleared people to go back in." There's certainly risk assessment going on, it's just not with the tenants' best interests in mind.
      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        Lawyers. Let's look at our options: 1. pay people for their belongings, maybe a few mill max. 2. pay people if the authorities missed something and it goes boom, maybe a few 10's of mill. Gee, as a county executive, what would you chose...and do not forget if something else goes boom, your re-election will also go boom?

        Yep, something's fishy here. Stop watching TV, it is bad for you.

        • Option 2 also implies "drag this mess on for a month while we wait for the analysis results to come back, during which we will need a constant police presence on site to keep out the photographers, gawkers, and the residents who are trying to save their belongings from us."

    • How unstable can the remaining stuff be? I mean it obviously did not detonate when the fist blast went off.,

      Only if you didn't bother to read the article or know anything about chemistry. "The presence of dangerous chemicals on site make it unsafe to try to salvage the building, officials said, citing the risk of another explosion or chemical exposure to workers."

      Depending on what he was trying to make, the intermediates and the by-products could be very toxic. This was compounded by the fact that the chemicals were spread by an explosion. Have you ever seen how law enforcement clean up a meth cook site. It's fu

      • How unstable can the remaining stuff be? I mean it obviously did not detonate when the fist blast went off.,

        Only if you didn't bother to read the article or know anything about chemistry. "The presence of dangerous chemicals on site make it unsafe to try to salvage the building, officials said, citing the risk of another explosion or chemical exposure to workers."

        Depending on what he was trying to make, the intermediates and the by-products could be very toxic. This was compounded by the fact that the chemicals were spread by an explosion. Have you ever seen how law enforcement clean up a meth cook site. It's full Hazmat suits. Would you say the FBI is "covering something up" when they have to condemn a meth site?

        They also usually don't try to burn meth sites.

        Part of the problem is that the article and summary are not particularly good--it does not really make sense that they'd opt for a controlled burn unless they were doubtful that the place wasn't going to continue to explode anyway, but I'd generally expect that to be something that would be mentioned explicitly in the article. As it is, the summary seems to not list all of its sources, as it says nothing is getting removed due to contamination while the articl

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      Just wait a few days, the alt-right will find a way to claim the FBI blew the boy up and then decided to destroy the evidence to cover it up.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Well, it might not be the stuff that blew up they're worried about. I'm guessing he probably didn't confine himself to one explosive, or even explosives per se, so he probably had quite a collection of interesting reagents lying around.

    • What has unstable to do with that?
      Most stuff used for explosives is poisoness ... and the building is full with dust of that stuff.

  • by McGruber ( 1417641 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @04:10PM (#56276381)
    The apartment building was successfully burned down on Thursday morning: Beaver Dam apartment burn a success; some personal items retrieved by bomb squad [fdlreporter.com]
  • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @04:28PM (#56276477)

    While the residents weren't able to get any belongings, the FBI bomb squad did retrieve high value items for them.

    • While the residents weren't able to get any belongings, the FBI bomb squad did retrieve high value items for them.

      What do they mean by value; very often the things that are most precious to people are things of little financial value, like the small wooden boat that grandpa helped you to paint.

  • Boom (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JBMcB ( 73720 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @04:39PM (#56276531)

    My unbelievably excellent chemistry teacher in high school guaranteed at least one explosion per week in class. Kept our attention grinding through stoichiometry, with the side benefit that most of us went through AP chemistry the next year and got some cheap college credits. The last week he filled a huge balloon with a perfect mixture of oxygen and some exotic relative of pentane, detonated with a remote piezo device he concocted himself. The shockwave blew covers off of the fluorescent lights and rattled windows on the opposite side of the fairly good sized school building.

    My AP chemistry teacher was a bit more pedestrian, but as a bonus for attending a study session on Saturday, he demonstrated thermite burning a hole through 1" thick plate steel.

    Of course, nowadays this would be completely vorboten, and such activities would end you up on an FBI watchlist.

    • By the time I was in chemistry class, we got tiny thermite demonstrations and one flammable liquid fire. That was fun. But I work in a school now, and I can say that the fire would never be allowed any more. The thermite maybe, but only if it were done following a five-page risk assessment form signed by a department head and carried out with all the students kept on the far side of the room behind a safety barrier.

      It took me two weeks to get approval for students to use a soldering iron in an after-school

    • Re:Boom (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @06:04PM (#56276909) Homepage Journal

      Yeah. I bought a chemistry set for my kids, but going through the instructions I realize that by removing anything that could be dangerous from the set what they had left was just boring.

  • It sounds like he knew just enough chemistry to kill himself. Chemical reactions can be oddballs simply because following exactly the same mixtures and methods can have more than one final result. So if you do not know that you may have either a good result or an explosion you just might try certain experiments. My bet would be he was trying to cook up a batch of meth.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @05:38PM (#56276783)

    This whole situation seems odd and subject to a wide range of interpretation due to the lack of information.

    - He could have been just a guy who chose an extremely stupid hobby.
    - He could've been cooking meth (although it's hard to see why the police wouldn't just say that).
    - He could've been working on some other synthesized and highly volatile drug... has anyone sought out the expert opinion of John McAfee?
    - He could have been an anti-government wacko planning an attack on a government building.
    - He could've been a radicalized convert to Islam.
    - He could've been planning an attack on an abortion clinic.
    - He could've just been another dude with a grudge against someone and a psychological disorder.

    • Right. There is literally no information about what he was actually doing, what caused the explosion, or what chemicals he had. Any speculation is speculation in complete ignorance at this point.

  • If he was experienced, I doubt he would be making anything too unstable. But the convenience of organic peroxide based explosives is really tempting.
    I wonder if the sublimation of acetone peroxide claimed another life. I would think he would have been aware of that though, it's well documented on a number of 'energetic chemistry' forums.

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

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