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'Things can go south in a hurry': ATF tells LEX 18 how they investigate homemade explosives

Posted at 8:05 PM, Jul 29, 2021

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (LEX 18) — It's no surprise that bombs are dangerous and sometimes deadly, and in cases where one move can mean disaster, investigators need every available tool in their toolbelt.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives investigates incidents every year. Its so-called "bomb school" helps thousands of bomb technicians learn how to do the sometimes meticulous and tedious job of identifying and disposing of bombs safely.

It's the kind of training that prepares explosives experts like the ones who responded to the Versailles home of Bryan Carroll in March. For three days, agents worked to make the home safe, and in the process, they found dozens of bomb-making materials, according to a federal search warrant. Some of the materials had to be detonated on-site before removal.

LEX 18 recently traveled to the secure site at the ATF's National Center for Explosives Training and Research in Huntsville, Alabama, to see how technicians are taught how to deal with unknowns and avoid explosive disasters.

On detonation day, we saw and heard a series of explosions. The training focused on how to investigate homemade bomb materials and explosives. Many times agents don't know what kind of jury-rigged devices they're working with, which can be the most dangerous part of the job.

"We have to assume the worst that whenever there are homemade explosives, we don't know the knowledge of the person who made it, the background, or the experience," said Shawn Morman, one of two ATF Residents In Charge at the Lexington field office. "We want to go home safely to our families as well."

At the range, students see in real-time what blasts look and sound like from different bomb-making mixtures. The evidence left behind also leaves clues.

In the classroom, agents stockpile batteries, wires, and other items that don't always look like explosive materials. It's up to students to piece together the puzzle of a bomb's so-called DNA.

"If we understand how these timers, switches, power sources work and function as designed, then we can look at them as to how they could be modified," said ATF Public Information Officer Michael Knight. He spent six months investigating the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Watch the video in the story to see how trainers use real explosions to show students what different blasts look like.