Inspectors bewildered by series of homemade bombs

A string of makeshift bombs crafted from household items have investigators throughout the county scratching their heads and hunting for suspects — possibly young ones.

The chain of events became apparent Sunday after a youth kicked a two-liter soda bottle wrapped in duct tape that was left outside the Redeemer Lutheran Church in Redwood City. Hydrochloric acid splashed from the bottle and onto a nearby girl’s legs, eating away at her pantyhose before her parents washed her with water and baking soda, Redwood City Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Cavallero said.

Sunday’s bomb — which failed to detonate — resembled one found Dec. 15 near Dennis Martin Creek, off Old La Honda Road in Woodside, that was filled with Drano. It, too, failed to explode, said Armando Muela, chief of the Woodside Fire Protection District.

Two other explosives were found in rural Woodside, both made from cans of ether and microwave ovens. The first caused a fire near the entrance of Runnymede Farms on Dec. 29, while the other was found smoldering brush on Lawlor Ranch Road on Dec. 30, Muela said.

“These [bottle] cases are not connected,” said Marc Alcantara, detective bureau commander with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department.

But the microwave bombs could be related, he added. “They occurred when kids are out of school on Christmas vacation, and they were in rural areas without much foot traffic.”

Both bottle bombs appeared to be modeled from videos seen on YouTube, where metal is mixed with an acidic liquid and sealed in a plastic bottle, police said. The chemical reaction causes the bottle to explode.

These cases are the first such incidents San Mateo County has seen, according to Dean Peterson, director of the county’s environmental health department.

“Generally, we have not seen cases where it appears someone was intentionally putting out hazardous waste to injure someone,” Peterson said.

If investigators locate suspects, the environmental health department would forward its cases to the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution, according to Peterson.

Cases like these would be prosecutable “any time there’s a victim,” said Larry Silver, co-director of the county’s juvenile probation department.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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