Mystery over booms solved; but were any laws broken?

Posted at 10:13 PM, Jan 27, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-27 22:19:16-05

Justin Watkins says he can’t take all of the big “boom” credit, but claims there’s no doubt he’s triggered a few ground-shaking shots lately.

He says he’s making no plans to stop.

An explosion shown Monday on CBS 6 was courtesy of Watkins, taped over the weekend.

“I have created a portion of the noise,” said Watkins, referring to the mystery that has vexed residents from Chesterfield to Colonial Heights to Dinwiddie in recent months.

The Chesterfield native says he set up a 20-pound mix of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder Saturday, something the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms calls binary exploding elements. The stuff is called tannerite, and it’s a target that explodes when hit.

Tannerite can be used as a general explosive, that, prior to mixing, can be sold, transported, and stored in most areas of the United States without any special permits. Neither part, separate, is explosive.

Watkins pulled the trigger of a high powered rifle and the detonation was felt for quite some distance.

“All I heard was a ‘wooompph’ off the windows,” said Beth Leigh in Colonial Heights.

“It was loud enough for me to drop to the ground,” said Sharon Sweeney in southern Chesterfield.

People living in southern Chesterfield County and others in Dinwiddie have been sounding off on social media outlets for months looking for answers to the mysterious booms. And there’s a mixed reaction when people find out that it’s a man-made device causing the shake-up.

“They have hobbies they like to do.  We have hobbies we like,” said Watkins.  “We like to hunt, fish and blow stuff up.”.

The ATF tells CBS 6 that as long as the products are mixed on site and not transported, then no federal or state laws have been broken.

The sound does travel, though, sometimes for miles.  But county officials say it does not violate any noise ordinance, because Watkins’ explosions occur during the day.

And police, after receiving 15 to 20 calls over the weekend, say they’ve investigated and that Watkins has done nothing unlawful.

“It’s one second out of one day,” said Watkins.  “We aren’t shooting 20 targets.”

Watkins says he isn’t the only one using the explosive targets and the 20-pounder that rocked southern Chesterfield over the weekend, won’t be his last blast.

“Are you going to stop?” I asked.

“ Nah, man,” he said.  “We are gonna’ keep shooting targets.  We aren’t breaking the law.”

Shooting at explosive targets is trending nationwide although it can get expensive: the cost of materials ranges from five to ten dollars per pound.