Copyright 1995 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company
The Houston Chronicle
May 8, 1995, Monday, 2 STAR Edition
SECTION: A; Pg. 1
LENGTH: 1084 words
HEADLINE: Explosion fatalities shoot up; Information widespread on building incendiary devices
BYLINE: DEBORAH TEDFORD, RAD SALLEE; Staff
From 1992 to 1993, the number of Americans killed or injured by explosives or incendiary devices nearly tripled and property damage shot up more than 20-fold. Most of this tragedy arose from a single incident, the World Trade Center bombing.
The 1994 numbers, still being compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, will probably be lower. But the toll will shoot up again for 1995, when the deaths, maimings and destruction of the April 19 Oklahoma City blast are tallied, said local ATF spokeswoman Franceska Perot.
That bombing, the worst domestic terrorism incident on record in the United States, has caused 164 confirmed deaths.
Donnie Carter, special-agent-in-charge of ATF's Houston field office, said more and more people are experimenting with explosives.
""You just go to your library and you can get books on building bombs,'' he said. ""If you can read, you can find out how to do it. ''
More information is available on the Internet and through computer bulletin boards, Perot noted.
In 1993, according to ATF statistics, 70 people lost their lives and 1,375 were injured in explosive and incendiary incidents, the vast majority of them intentional. Damage was estimated at $ 526.4 million.
The 1992 toll had been much lower: 45 deaths, 469 injuries and $ 22.6 million in losses.
The bombing on Feb. 26, 1993, of the twin 110-story New York office towers injured more than 1,000 people, killed six, and caused damage estimated at more than $ 500 million.
Largely because of that one bombing, only 5 percent of the 1993 casualties (deaths and injuries) were classified as accidental. In 1992, 27 percent had been accidental, many of them occurring at fireworks factories.
Accidents made up just 75 of the 9,500 incidents investigated by ATF agents during the five years 1989-93. The sum includes bomb threats and hoaxes, as well as thefts and recoveries of explosives.
About 40 percent of the incidents were classified as criminal bombings and another 8 percent as attempted bombings, in which the device malfunctioned or was deactivated before it could go off.
Among the victims was an ATF agent, Johnny Masengale, who was killed in the Seattle area May 6, 1992, while disposing of explosives held as evidence.
""In a lot of cases,'' said Perot, ""the individual building the bomb injures himself because he doesn't know what he's doing. ''
Igor Longo, 22, an Italian studying engineering at the University of Houston, was charged with possession of an unregistered destructive device and other federal offenses after a pipe bomb went off in a trash receptacle Feb. 12.
Longo lost an arm and suffered facial injuries in the blast, which occurred at a bus stop near West Dallas and Taft in the Montrose area.
More often, the victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, like many of those inside the A.P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City when a truck loaded with explosive fertilizer and fuel oil was parked outside and detonated.
Houston mail carrier Nathan Cook, 70, who had taken the route to keep busy after a career in petroleum geology, was injured Oct. 19, 1993 when a package exploded as he was taking it out of a mailbox. Another bomb was found inside the box.
ATF statistics on more than 11,000 U.S. bombing incidents investigated from 1989-1993 show most of the devices were left in mailboxes, followed closely by residences.
The bureau has jurisdiction to investigate crimes involving explosives, except for those involving terrorism or federal property, where the FBI is in charge. Even then, ATF agents are included as part of a National Response Team.
State or local officers are typically first to arrive after a bombing. They secure the site and call ATF, whose agents clear the area and meticulously collect fragments of debris.
With skill and luck, agents can deduce the type and location of the bomb, and possibly the bomber's identity. In both the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, identifiable parts of the trucks used were found and traced.
The ""why'' and ""how'' of a bombing or incendiary incident are often easy to answer. Of 6,574 cases investigated by ATF from 1988-1993, nearly 90 percent were motivated by vandalism or revenge.
Other motives -- including political protests, extortion, insurance fraud, labor disputes, homicide and suicide -- together accounted for only about one incident out of 10.
About 5 percent of the incidents happened in Texas, which has 7 percent of the nation's population. The state, second only to California in population, ranked fourth in explosives incidents, with 1,052 compared to California's 3,171. Illinois and Florida were second and third.
Comparable figures for Harris County or Houston were not available.
The devices most often used nationally were pipe bombs and bottles filled with gasoline -- so-called ""Molotov cocktails,'' the Russian revolutionists' simple but effective anti-tank weapon.
More sophisticated villains may booby-trap something as innocuous as an envelope or package. For instance, federal authorities have been stymied since 1978 by the mysterious ""Unabomber,'' whose mail bombs have killed two people and injured 23.
A $ 1 million reward is offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of ""Unabomber,'' who for a time targeted universities and airlines. In December, a New Jersey advertising executive was killed by one of the bombs.
FBI and ATF agents in Houston are assigned to a nationwide task force aimed at catching the mailbomber.
Deaths, damage from explosives.
The number of deaths and injuries resulting from explosives in the United States nearly tripled from 1992 to 1993 - when 70 people lost their lives and 1,375 were injured by blasts.
Criminal bombing 1,911 1,880.
Attempted bombing 384 375.
Incendiary # 582 538.
Attempted incendiary* 112 187.
Accidental explosion 39 36.
Deaths 45 70.
Injuries 489 1,375.
(millions of dollars) $ 22.6 $ 526.4.
# Devices such as Molotov cocktails or bottles of gasoline.
GRAPHIC: Graph: Deaths, damage from explosives (color, text); Houston Chronicle, Source: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms