Recipe for Disaster

Teens are getting in trouble for making homemade bombs and even plotting attacks.
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Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Note: WTHR does not identify or list all of the necessary materials for explosives for obvious reasons.

13 Investigates an explosive issue: Dangerous chemicals in the hands of teens. The FBI says it can't stop kids from getting a recipe for disaster. But with public support authorities can help keep teens from creating a deadly mix.

It's a new homegrown threat prompting a wake-up call for parents and businesses. Behind pimples and "peach fuzz" are teens accused of terrorist acts. Some set off home-made bombs, while others are facing charges for plotting deadly attacks.

Jeff Muller, the Assistant Section Chief in the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, wants parents to understand an important fact up front.

"The information is out there," he said emphatically.

A few recent cases are good reminders.

Two Indianapolis teens on spring break in Savannah, Georgia are caught on tape carrying volatile chemicals behind a pool/patio store.

The video shows 17-year-old Kenneth Smock as he puts a container on a manhole. His 17-year-old friend, Taylor Sandlin, fuels the mix.

It's an internet recipe for disaster and creates a cooked-up bomb that explodes in minutes.

Just up the map, 18-year-old Ryan Schallenberger had ten pounds of ammonium nitrate delivered to his parents' door. Police say the teen planned to blow up his high school in Chesterfield and had all the ingredients to get started.

"It's the same substance Timothy McVeigh used in Oklahoma City, if that gives you an idea of how volatile that is," said Chesterfield Police Chief Randall Lear, describing the explosive components police found.

Schallenberger had just a fraction of what McVeigh concocted, but enough to tip off his parents to potential trouble. They turned him in.

"Ten pounds could take out, certainly take out a classroom," said Donald Sachtleben, an FBI Bomb Technician with the Indianapolis FBI Field Office.

Perhaps more disturbing is that the explosives are a dangerous mix of common household products available at your neighborhood hardware or home improvement store. The cost? Just over $30.

"Unfortunately, it just proves that what we're trying to do makes sense," said Sachtleben.

What the FBI is doing is hidden in the rugged terrain of a Nevada desert mountain. 13 Investigates is among a handful allowed inside the danger zone at Fort Nellis, where a group of FBI agents gathered for training.

Strategically placed bombs were peppered across the hill side - improvised explosives, or home-made bombs similar to those used against our soldiers in Iraq, and found increasingly in the hands of teens.

"We see unfortunately incidents where there's been loss of life or loss of body parts," explained Chief Muller.

Muller said it's also the first time some coordinators are getting extensive bomb training. "Resources are limited, so what we hope to do is expand the information network, the intelligence network throughout the United States," he told 13 Investigates.

The goal is create "trip wires" to catch teens or terrorists plotting destruction. The FBI wants parents and businesses to report unusual chemical purchases, experimentation or smells.

Greg Carl, the Explosives Chief at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia said it's important that parents don't underestimate what teens and terrorists can cook up at home.

"I have a feeling quite a few parents don't realize how easy it is and with the proliferation of this information on the internet, that's one of the biggest areas where we see these types of chemicals," he said.

And it doesn't take much.

Bomb Tech Sachtleben showed our cameras the tip of a pen as an example.

"The amount of explosive you could fit into the tip of this pen, it's about a 14th of an ounce. Extremely small amount but very powerful, very sensitive," he warned.

It was enough to set off car alarms more than 200 yards away and for those standing by to feel the force as well.

"It will sort of strike you in the chest and bounce you a little bit," Sachtleben told 13 Investigates.

From a pinch to a "packed punch" of more than 200 pounds in a full-sized van set off by a remote control device, the power is clear.

After the blast, pieces of the blown fan can be seen a safe distance away. On the path to survey the damage up close our camera finds the shredded remains from each test blast.

Greg Rabinovitz is the FBI Bomb Tech who led the demonstration.

"Using the right materials, you can take stuff we buy in a store in public and manufacture something which has essentially the same effect as the military device does," he said, showing the similar remains of a home-made bomb and a military explosive.

At the site of the van explosion, all that remained was a small piece of the vehicle's under carriage. It served as a sober reminder of what can happen in the wrong hands.

FBI experts said it doesn't matter if it's a prank or a practice run to something more ominous. They want teens and parents to know they won't easily dismiss activities involving explosives.
"They're going to find that stupidity is no defense," warned Sachtleben. "I guarantee you we don't ignore any of it."

The two Indiana teens accused of setting off an explosive in Georgia now face felony terrorist threat charges.

Schellenberger's parents are regarded as heroes for stopping potential disaster in its tracks.

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Poster for employers - This poster explains what employees should do if a customer requests hazardous or suspicious materials.

Indianapolis Joint Terrorism Task Force