METHUEN — A rash of homemade plastic-bottle bombs used to blow up mailboxes has prompted arson investigators and the state police fire marshal's office to offer up to a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone responsible for making and setting off the incendiary devices.
Yesterday at about 6:30 a.m., Diane Gagnon of 1 Edgeworth St., went outside to put a letter in her mailbox when she found a plastic bottle sticking out the front.
She woke up her husband, Dan, who checked out the unusual sight and immediately called police.
Methuen police arson investigator Matt Bistany, Methuen patrolman Neil Quinlan, State Police bomb squad expert Paul Horgan and Methuen Fire Department Deputy Bill Barry responded.
While the supposed bomb didn't actually explode, it did leave chemical stains on the inside of the mailbox, and may have blown open the mailbox door.
Bistany said it is at least the third device of its kind found in the neighborhood in the last few weeks, although in the two other cases, the bombs actually succeeded in blowing apart the mailboxes.
Barry said the bombs, made up of typical household chemicals poured into plastic bottles and then sealed shut with the cap, can be very powerful.
"We take these very seriously," he said. "Kids have lost their fingers and had their faces injured from these things. It's very serious."
Indeed, a Google search on the Internet reveals hundreds of websites dedicated to helping people make bombs out of plastic water bottles, chlorine, alcohol, baking soda and even Mento candies and Diet Coke.
YouTube is filled with videos showing the bottles exploding unexpectedly in the faces or hands of unsuspecting teens or youths who think it's fun to blow stuff up.
Bistany said that he thinks that's what's going on here.