Police investigating acid-filled bottle found near church

Police are continuing to investigate a Sunday incident where children outside a Redwood City church found a 2-liter bottle filled with hydrochloric acid, a police captain said today.

Since December, authorities in Redwood City and Woodside have found a number of common household items such as plastic bottles and microwave ovens that contain dangerous chemicals in them that react and explode, according to Woodside Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Denise Enea.

The most recent event occurred at about 10:15 a.m. Sunday when fire officials received a call reporting a Coke bottle containing an unknown chemical substance outside of the Redeemer Lutheran Church, near the intersection of Grand Street and Harrison Avenue, Redwood City Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Cavallero said.

A group of children had apparently kicked the bottle, breaking the cap. The liquid spurted out of the bottle onto a girl's nylon clothing, melting a few holes in it, according to Cavallero.

The girl, unharmed by the chemical, reported the incident, and the fire department called in the hazardous materials team, the San Mateo Sheriff's Office bomb squad, the Redwood City Police Department, and the county's environmental health department, Cavallero said.

Authorities determined that the liquid inside the bottle was hydrochloric acid. The bottle also contained residue of some kind of metal.

The hydrochloric acid that spilled into the area was safely removed, and environmental health officials safely disposed of the bottle. No injuries were reported.

Officials believe the incident might be connected to three similar cases in the southern part of San Mateo County in the last month in which 2-liter soda bottles were discovered with small amounts of a reactive liquid and metal inside, Cavallero said.

In each of the cases, the substances were mixed and the bottle sealed, creating a reaction that causes the bottles to burst and spray out whatever liquid is inside, he said.

"There is no suspect information in the case at this time, but it is still an active investigation,” Redwood City police Capt. Chris Cesena said. Officers are also working with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating similar incidents that occurred in its jurisdiction.

Investigators believe the incidents are meant as pranks, but Cavallero cautioned that whatever liquid used in the bottle can be sprayed onto people nearby and cause harm.

If residents see a suspicious container they are advised to stay away and call 911, according to Enea. They should not try to move or touch the object in any way.

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