October 24, 2011

Chemical bomb tossed
into Occupy Maine encampment

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Occupy Maine protesters say Sunday morning's attack with a chemical explosive has left them with a mixture of anxiety and resolve.

click image to enlarge

Stephanie Wilburn, 19, stands in the kitchen/communal area of the Occupy Maine camp. She was standing in the same areaaround 3:30 a.m. Sunday when a chemical bomb exploded underneath a table nearby. The bomb allegedly was thrown from a passing car. Wilburn said she lost hearing in one of her ears for about a day, but no other injuries were reported.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Occupy Maine reorganizes its tents this afternoon in response to a chemical bomb that exploded on the Congress Street side of Lincoln Park early Sunday morning.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

"We are more motivated to keep doing what we're doing," said Stephanie Wilburn, of Portland, who was sitting near where the chemical mixture in a Gatorade bottle was tossed at 4 a.m. Sunday. "They have heard us and we're making a difference."

Wilburn said she was startled and briefly lost hearing in her left ear when the device exploded beneath a table about 10 feet away. Wilburn's hearing returned and police said no injuries were reported.

Portland police Sgt. Glen McGary said the bomb was thrown into the camp’s kitchen, a tarped area where food is cooked and served. Protest organizers said the explosion lifted a large table about a foot off the ground.

"There was no fire . . . We had a good 20 feet of thick smoke rolling out from under the table," Wilburn said. They could see the "G" on the 24-ounce bottle and its orange cap, as well as bits of silver metal, she said.

She and a friend who ran over to look at it breathed in fumes that smelled like ammonia, she said.

Witnesses said a silver car had been circling before the attack, its occupants shouting things like "Get a job" and "You communist." They believe someone from that car threw the device, according to a statement from Occupy Maine.

The demonstrators are protesting what they describe as unfairly favorable treatment given banks and other corporate interests at the expense of working people and those trying to find a job.

Shane Blodgett of Augusta was sleeping in his tent in the middle of the park when the explosion woke him up.

"I heard a sound which I thought was a gunshot," he said, gesturing at the collection of three dozen tents that cover the south side of the park at Congress and Pearl streets.

"I was in fear for my life. I thought someone was walking around with a gun. I didn't dare poke my head out," Blodgett said. He eventually went back to sleep.

Katty Heath, originally from New Hampshire, now of Portland, said she slept through the entire event and didn't realize anything untoward had happened until she woke that morning.

Sgt. Glen McGary said the homemade bomb, which consisted of chemicals poured into a plastic Gatorade container could have caused serious injury.

Police are investigating and spent about two hours at the campsite, located at the corner of the busy Congress Street and Franklin Street corridors, collecting evidence to determine the compounds used in the explosive, organizers said.

Acting Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said today that detectives don't necessarily believe Occupy Maine was the sole target because another device was set off elsewhere that night. He described the device as the type often associated with teenage pranks. But he said police are taking it seriously because someone could've been hurt.

A statement from the group said many campers fear another attack.

The car, seen driving slowly past the encampment before someone inside threw the device, is described as an older model silver four-door sedan, possibly a Toyota or Nissan.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Portland Police Department at 874-8575.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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