An apartment complex and house were evacuated south of Prineville Tuesday as an Oregon State Police bomb squad from Salem used explosive charges to render three pipe bombs harmless. They were found in a home with nearly 100 pounds of unstable gunpowder, up to 44 years old, and 200 pounds of ammunition.
Officials said the deadly combination easily could have leveled the home where they were found.
The explosive materials were found in the small basement of the home of Michael “Adam” Wright, 30, who was arrested Monday at his home in the Crestview subdivision south of Prineville that he shared with wife Marlo and their two children, Undersheriff Jim Hensley said.
“They (bomb squad members) say (the gunpowder) will spontaneously go off when it gets” that old and unstable, Hensley said. “It pretty much would have leveled the place.”
A search warrant had been executed around 4 p.m. Monday at the home to look for stolen property and drugs, a raid that resulted from a burglary investigation in recent days, Hensley said.
But the search was suspended Monday night when sheriff’s deputies first found blasting caps, then at least three complete pipe bombs; a fourth later was found to have no gunpowder inside, said Undersheriff Jim Hensley.
Sheriff’s deputies initially investigated a burglary last Wednesday, Dec. 10 in the 3700 block of Rimrock Acres Loop, where numerous antiques and other items were stolen. The home was unoccupied, as the items and residence were being prepared for an estate sale, Hensley said.
Four days later, on Sunday, deputies responded to a possible burglary in progress at the same location and apprehended Michael Wright and Taira Russell, the undersheriff said. The two allegedly were in possession of stolen property and methamphetamine, and were trying to leave the residence when deputies arrived, he said.
Both were arrested and lodged in the Crook County Jail, but both were conditionally released after a court appearance Monday. Meanwhile, an affidavit for a search warrant was prepared and signed for the Crestview Road home. Residents Marlo and Michael Wright were there when deputies arrived.
Hensley said seven pickup truck loads of stolen property were seized from the home, linking Michael “Adam” Wright with burglaries in the area, along with suspected drugs, unlawful firearms and the homemade pipe bombs and other destructive devices that prompted a halt to the search.
First pipe bombs, then gunpowder found
On Tuesday, the OSP bomb squad removed the devices from the home and set up a blast area, prompting the precautionary evacuations, Hensley said. They made the pipe bombs safe by attaching “something similar to a shotgun shell” and setting the charge off from a safe distance, Hensley said. “Literally, the projectile blows down the side of the pipe and blows the cap off,” he said.
After the pipe bombs were removed and rendered harmless, the search resumed, and deputies found 88 one-pound cans of smokeless gunpowder. “A lot of them were full, some were partially full,” Hensley said. “Some of these cans were so unstable – they had dates from 1959.” When the bomb squad walked into the small basement, they had quickly detected the odor of the unstable gunpowder, the undersheriff said.
With the area still evacuated, the cans of gunpowder were emptied in a long line outside and a fuse was set, then ignited, again from a safe distance, burning up the material, Hensley said. “It was just a big, huge flame that went up.”
By the time the search ended Tuesday afternoon, deputies seized about 25 firearms from the home, some illegally altered by having their serial numbers ground off, Hensley said.
Hensley said deputies seized evidence related to three burglaries and a vehicle theft case, in which the vehicle apparently was dismantled. “It is believed that other items seized will be identified in other ongoing criminal cases in the Central Oregon area,” the undersheriff said in a news release. Investigators will contact victims from reported cases to view the property and determine if it can be identified by the rightful honors, Hensley said.
Wright was taken into custody at the home Monday; his wife was not arrested, and the children were not home at the time, Hensley said.
The undersheriff said Wright will face more charges than the ones he was arrested on Monday, which include four counts of first-degree burglary, one count of second-degree burglary, possession of stolen property, first-degree theft, first-degree aggravated theft, drug possession and manufacturing, four counts of possession of a destructive device and possession of an unlawful firearm.
These and other charges brought his bail amount as of Tuesday to $385,000, Hensley said.