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Bomb Squad are experts in defusing trouble spots

New Hampshire Sunday News

April 06. 2013 8:09PM
A collection of old military explosive devices collected across New Hampshire in May 2011. (N.H. STATE POLICE PHOTO)

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If the response to the early-morning report of a possible pipe bomb 10 days ago in Manchester looked like overkill, that's because it was, according to State Trooper 1st Class Jeffrey Dade.

Dade, the senior member of the State Police Explosive Disposal Unit, said there was good reason the bigger-than-normal contingent descended on 245 Maryland Ave. after the homeowner discovered what appeared to be a pipe bomb as he took out the trash.

The unit, also known as the bomb squad, usually sends two technicians to such a report, but the full six members showed up that day, Dade said.

Squad members were on the way to train together that morning, as they do twice a month as required for certification, when the Manchester call came in.

"All six of us were working, so the full unit responded," Dade said. The team decided to incorporate the live call into the training session.

"It had all the hallmarks of being a pipe bomb," Dade said of the pipe in Manchester. "But it appears it was just mislaid property."

Because there is no way to know for sure, Dade said there is still a remote chance it was a hoax, but chances are so slight there will be no more inquiry unless some new information comes to light.

"Based on what we know, we don't feel we need to do further investigation," Dade said.

Satisfied customers

The Manchester homeowners, Chad and Elizabeth Murphy, were very grateful for the response, which also included a half-dozen Manchester police officers. The Manchester officers were all on their regular shift, so no extra funds were involved, according to Manchester police Lt. Maureen Tessier.

Mrs. Murphy, a Franklin Middle School teacher, was already at work when she found out about the incident.?Her husband, a former police officer who works as a Rockingham County Sheriff's Department dispatcher, found the pipe leaning against their mailbox.

"He was taking out the garbage," Mrs. Murphy said. "It was terrifying."

She praised the work of the police and explosive experts who showed up.

"They took good care of us. We're marching on," she said. "By afternoon, it was like nothing had happened."

Bomb squad history

Answering Manchester calls is always a reminder of what prompted the state to form a specialized team of trained bomb technicians in the first place, Dade said.

After an anti-war rally in 1972, two former University of New Hampshire student activists planted four bombs at the Manchester police and fire stations, according to Union Leader reports at the time. Three exploded and caused some damage; one didn't go off. No one was hurt, except for the bomber, Jaan Karl Laaman, who injured his hand when one of the explosives went off prematurely.

New Hampshire was shocked by the incident.

Kathryn A. Holt, then 21, of Salem was sentenced to serve four years in prison for being the accomplice to Laaman, who was then 24.

Laaman, now 65, was involved in more bombings of government buildings after his release from New Hampshire, according to Wikipedia. Laaman is currently in federal prison in Tucson, Ariz., according to a federal prison website.

Holt's attorney, Gerald Prunier of Nashua, said he doesn't know what happened to Holt after she left prison.

Laaman "was really the mastermind," Prunier said. It's hard today for people to envision those tumultuous years, he said.

"They were extremely volatile times with the war in Vietnam and everything going on," Prunier said.

Concord library bombs

The bomb squad also played a role in the October 1998 incident that left officials urging calm after a bomb partially exploded at the Concord City Library, a block from the State House. A second bomb was discovered on the steps of the New Hampshire State Library, half a block from the first bomb; it did not explode.

At the time, then-Attorney General Philip McLaughlin said: "It's reasonable to conclude that there is a dangerous person out there and all of us should be on guard."

Dade said no one was ever charged with that crime.

"It remains unsolved to this day," Dade said.

New pressures

Bomb squads across the country began expanding after 9/11, but Dade said the New Hampshire State Police bomb squad has moved in the opposite direction, trying to remain lean despite responding to 286 calls last year.

Besides disarming old war ordnance and old commercial and agricultural explosives, the bomb squad usually has a presence at any large gathering in the state, such as NASCAR races. It also helps the Secret Service when Presidents and other dignitaries visit New Hampshire.

Dade said normally local police respond first to assess a situation, then call the bomb squad if the item looks like a potential threat.

The more live calls under a bomb technician's belt, the better, Dade said.

"Nobody wants to go down range with someone who has only done 20 calls," Dade said. "You want to go with someone with 75 or 100."

The bomb squad responds at no cost to municipalities. Two people on the squad are full-time members who also conduct commercial explosive storage inspections and training for first-responders, school personnel, 911 operators and businesses in what to do in case of bomb threats or the discovery of a bomb.

Four members work as regular state troopers deployed at troop stations across the state, so they can respond quickly to a wider geographic area, he said, adding there is no separate line item and very little extra cost for the squad due to overtime.

Nashua has a four-member bomb squad, which answers about 10 calls a year, and the FBI has two bomb technicians, he said. If need be, Dade said, technicians from one squad help their peers in another.

There are between six and a dozen live pipe bombs disarmed each year. Those are generally made by teenagers or young adults, he said.

"The most common motive is thrill," Dade said. "They like to hear the boom."

Dade believes the bomb squad saves New Hampshire money by also working with SWAT teams. Using the squad's robot, some tense situations, especially those involving barricaded individuals, can be resolved more quickly, saving staff hours with no risk to people.

The bomb squad shuns the limelight, he said.

"We are happy just to be doing what we love," Dade said. "We do like to get a lot of bang for our buck."

This photo, taken by a state police explosives robot, shows a suspicious device found in the glove compartment of a car in Dover in 2008. The device was determined to be a hoax. NH STATE POLICE

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