Mandarin residents are asking if a series of bottle bombs are merely a harmless prank or something more sinister after a third incident in three days.
Just before 8 p.m. Monday, two water bottles filled with chemicals and foil were thrown on Old St. Augustine Road. One exploded in the middle of the street; the other did not.
Investigators with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said they believe a teenage boy is responsible for throwing the bottles, which sounded like a gunshot to nearby residents.
News4Jax has been told a teenage boy has been identified as a person of interest connected to the incident — and two others in recent days. He is being questioned.
“We’ve got intelligence that is going to interview him and try to develop some more leads,” said Lt. Jimmy Judge with JSO. “We would like to reach out to the public. If anybody knows anything about who may be doing this, we’d like you to call the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.”
On Saturday, police investigated a similar explosion outside an apartment at the Coopers Hawk Apartments on Old St. Augustine Road. Steven Burman called police after he noticed a strong chemical smell after someone threw a water bottle at his door.
“I’m an avid hunter and we use shotguns on a regular basis, and this was probably four times louder than a shotgun,” Burman said.
Burman and his girlfriend, Kiley Sosby, said they ran outside after the explosion and found remnants of a water bottle and pieces of foil near the door, still smoking from the blast.
Then early Monday morning, less than half a mile away, a bottle with an unknown substance exploded outside an apartment at the Timberwalk Apartment complex on Whispering Forest Drive. A resident called police after the explosion but could not describe who might have left the bottle. Three children were inside that apartment when the bottle exploded, but no one was injured.
Investigators said they believe the suspects responsible for those two incidents are connected to Monday night's incident.
Burman and Sosby said they want the person responsible held accountable before someone gets hurt.
“You need to find something a little bit better that you’d like to do, rather than making bombs,” Burman said. “I mean, we’ve got enough wars going on right now, worried about what’s going on in Iraq right now, let alone what’s going on right here. It’s crazy.”
No one has been hurt in any of these cases, but Judge said it could easily happen.
“If it was, for example, picked up by a small child, it could kill him,” Judge said, describing the dangers of the bottle bombs. “If it was picked up by an adult and the acid got on him or her, it could certainly cause serious chemical burns, so we take it real seriously and it’s very dangerous.”
A portion of Old St. Augustine Road was closed for about 20 minutes Monday night, but police had officers out to direct traffic, and everything has been cleared from the road.
Police said it's not certain what charges the person responsible could face but they will likely all be felonies.
Anyone with information about these incidents is asked to call JSO at 904-630-0500 or Crime Stoppers at 866-845-TIPS.