Accused dealer mum about explosives, remains in jail; federal charges coming
Michael Sanchez kept his head down and his face hidden behind court papers from his initial appearance in Jones County Justice Court as he shuffled back to the jail in shackles and handcuffs on Sunday afternoon.
Sanchez, 31, ignored questions about whether he was making bombs with the intent to “cause death and destruction,” as Sheriff Alex Hodge said on Friday after explosives and related materials were found at his home on Trace Road.
Three people who say they are close to Sanchez, speaking on the condition of anonymity, insist “there is no way” he would do anything to hurt others.
Asked how he would respond to those people, Hodge said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Sanchez was charged with conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance after narcotics investigators found what was believed to be heroin at the residence on Friday morning. He was arrested for the same thing in November 2015.
Judge Howell Beech set Sanchez’s bond at $50,000 on the drug charge, and the ATF will “absolutely be making additional charges,” Hodge said. “He’s not going anywhere.”
But the search warrant that led to the drug arrest also led Jones County Sheriff’s Department officials to make what was described as a “chilling discovery,” Maj. Jamie Tedford said.
Hodge and Tedford credited Lt. Robert Little with “figuring out what we were looking at” after they went into the home expecting to find drugs, but wound up possibly disrupting a plan to detonate a bomb in a public place.
Officials wouldn’t tell exactly what kind of explosive materials they found, but Hodge said, “nothing of this magnitude has been found in Mississippi” and ATF agent Jason Denham said it was “designed to destroy or do harm.”
That’s what Little recognized from training he did at New Mexico Tech.
“Some of the items were consistent with what’s been found with small-scale pipe bombs,” said Little, who was wearing a T-shirt from that course, “Incident Response to Terrorist Bombing,” under his gear when he found the evidence of bombing materials outside the home.
On the property behind the house, there were holes in the ground, shrapnel and “wires from the crater area where (the bombs) could be set off electronically,” Little said.
Denham said the ATF is running a ‘parallel investigation” with the JCSD to determine what federal charges Sanchez will face.
“Explosives are lawful,” he said. “Destructive devices are against federal law.”
What was found at the home on Trace Road was the latter, Denham said. Marbles and other materials were found that were being used as shrapnel, and that “exposes him to federal law.”
Asked if there had been any similar discoveries around the state, Denham said, “It’s unique to find someone testing devices. You normally don’t find that.”
Hodge and Tedford said that the training the JCSD goes through likely saved lives, with Little and Sgt. Scott Sims finding the explosives and targets.
They haven’t been able to find who are what Sanchez was planning to bomb, but they’re convinced he had a target in mind. Placards had been set up in trees, about “head height,” Hodge said, to gauge how far and wide the shrapnel would go.
“He was trying to tune the blast of the explosion to a certain height,” Hodge said. “If this doesn’t bring chills, you’d better wake up.”