RCMP search warrant documents detail a shocking degree of ineptness and dangerous handling of a potentially lethal pipe bomb at Edmonton International Airport by nearly everyone involved in the screening process.
The search warrant, obtained exclusively by CBC News, describes how an airport security manager actually opened the pipe bomb and dumped the contents, apparently oblivious to the potential for triggering a deadly explosion.
The documents also show that a manual swab and an explosives-detection test failed to detect the pipe bomb. Worse, a trainer for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) did not recognize it was an explosive device and left it in her office over the weekend.
“The device, if it were filled with any type of gunpowder, would have the potential to cause death or serious bodily harm to anyone within close proximity to it,” the search warrant states, quoting an RCMP explosives expert.
“At this time it is not possible to say what the extent of damage the device would have caused if it were initiated inside a pressurized aircraft, but further testing and reconstruction will be done in the near future.”
The pipe bomb was inadvertently carried into the airport screening area by then 18-year-old Skylar Murphy of Spruce Grove, Alta. on Sept. 20, 2013. Murphy was with his mother, and his mother’s fiancé, a sheriff with Alberta Justice who works at the Alberta legislature.
Interviews by RCMP with various screeners and managers and a description of the surveillance video from the screening area provide a detailed account of the series of security failures that followed.
At 5:25 a.m., a screener detected something in a duffel bag, and Murphy was identified as the owner of the bag. The teenager immediately looked nervous and embarrassed.
Inside the duffel bag was a camera bag and inside that bag was another small velvet bag from a shop that sells marijuana paraphernalia. The small bag was taken out of the screening machine and opened.
“[The screener] is observed to examine the device further by taking a swab and doing an explosives detection test,” the document states, citing a surveillance video.
The screener then discusses the item with Murphy, who denies it is his. The device is checked out by at least two other screening officers.
“[The screener] is then observed to put the device back into the small black pouch and try and return it to Murphy.”
The screener who was dealing with Murphy told RCMP that after the explosives test proved negative, “he was still not satisfied and showed it to another supervisor, but was then told to give the object back to the passenger, but ‘the kid’ would not take it.
“The kid’s parents said if the kid didn’t want it then they didn’t want it either,” and the pipe bomb was placed in a forfeit bin.
Pipe bomb contents dumped
The screener said that when he returned from a 45-minute break he observed a manager examining the pipe bomb by opening it and “taking what looked like green granules out of it," He added later, “the manager dumped it out,” the document states.
That same day, the pipe bomb ended up in a forfeit bin, along with such items as scissors and toothpaste. It was eventually brought to a CATSA training officer. It was opened in front of her. She then showed it to a CATSA manager, who told her that the RCMP should have been called.
The manager took the device to give to another more senior CATSA manager, but he wasn’t in his office so he returned the device to the female training officer.
“She later received a call from the CATSA manager asking if it was a rope or a fuse (on the device),” the search warrant states.
“She realized it was a fuse and then EDT (Explosives Detection Test) swabbed it and got a negative. She knows that black powder does not register on the EDT. She then left the office for the weekend.”
Inexplicably, no one called the RCMP. Four days later, on Sept. 24, she returned to work and “realized the device was still on her desk. She had a bad feeling and did not believe the device was a ‘Wacky tobacco holder,’" and took the device to her senior managers.
On that same day, Sept. 24, four days after Murphy forfeited the pipe bomb, the RCMP were finally called about the “suspicious improvised explosive device.”
The Mounties conducted some tests. They cut off a section of the fuse and lit it with a match.
“The material flared up and burned as a fuse would be expected to,” the search warrant states, adding that the pipe contained a “small amount of grey powder, which appeared to be gun powder.”
When that powder was tested with a match, it also flared up and burned.
The search warrant shows RCMP seized computer equipment, phones and other items in an apparent attempt to determine if Murphy intended to harm anyone.
The RCMP arrested Murphy when he returned with his parents from Mexico on Sept. 27. The Mounties later determined that Murphy had no intention of harming anyone. He and a friend had built the pipe bomb for fun, to blow up a shed. He placed the pipe bomb in his camera bag and forgot it.
In December, a judge handed Murphy a one-year suspended sentence, fined him $100 and ordered him to make a $500 donation to a burn unit.
CATSA said it conducted an internal review of the incident, made changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and suspended some employees. But screeners at the airport told CBC News that the changes are minor and no one was suspended.