A Gloucester man accused of planting a pipe bomb at Colonial Williamsburg last week was seen on Hampton Bass Pro Shop surveillance video buying materials for the device, court records show.
Stephen Powers, 30, was arrested at his Gloucester home by the Williamsburg Police Department on Friday. Powers, a former Colonial Williamsburg maintenance employee, is accused of planting the device near a Merchants Square parking lot. It exploded about 5 p.m. Thursday, officials said. No one was injured in the blast.
Powers is charged with possession of and using an explosive device and committing an act of terrorism, according to Williamsburg Police Department Maj. Greg Riley.
The investigation into Powers appears to have started days before the device exploded, according to the criminal complaint filed at the Williamsburg General District Court.
Powers was asked to stay home from work by his supervisors on Oct. 17, following an incident the previous week at the Colonial Williamsburg maintenance office, which is in the basement below Chico’s clothing store, according to the document.
The Williamsburg Fire Department and Colonial Williamsburg staff responded on Oct. 11 to the maintenance office to a report of the smell of sulfur. First-responding firefighters also saw a haze outside the building. The area was searched, but nothing was found. A fire marshal on the scene said the basement smelled like someone had set off firecrackers, the document states.
Powers told Colonial Williamsburg staff he was checking the boilers when a Chico’s employee asked him to check an odor in the basement. He said he found a handwritten note on the outside door to the maintenance office that said: “I am sorry my device did not work last night -D,” according to the criminal complaint.
Powers reported three days later that he had found a second note taped to the same door, which mentioned “Adramelech.” He said only people he had served with in Iraq would know the word. He said he would be the only person in the area who would know the significance of the word.
Investigators have determined that Powers did not serve in Iraq.
A Daily Press online search of the word “Adramelech” shows a few possible meanings. In John Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost,” Adramelech is a high demon under Satan.
The word, spelled “Adrammelech,” is also mentioned in the Old Testament, second book of Kings. In one reference, Adrammelech is a son of a king who killed his father, and in another reference, a god to which people burned and sacrificed their children.
Two days later after reporting the second note, Powers was recorded on Bass Pro Shop surveillance buying three plastic jars of Benchmark Smokeless powder, a type of gun powder, with a Wells Fargo Visa card. He reported the card was stolen after making the purchase, according to the documents.
Two people were sitting in a car parked in lot P5 on Thursday evening when the pipe bomb exploded. Williamsburg police and firefighters responded to a report of the incident about 5 p.m., according to the criminal complaint.
The parking lot, in a highly populated area with a lot of foot traffic, is on the corner of Francis and South Boundary streets. It is connected to the exterior door where Powers reported finding the letters, the document states.
The people inside the car were not injured, but the vehicle was covered in mulch after the explosion. A person inside the vehicle told investigators she smelled fireworks or the odor of a rotten egg after the explosion, according to the complaint.
“Portions of the end caps to the pipe landed on the roof of Berrett’s Seafood restaurants and at the rear door to the Fat Canary, both in the parking lot P5,” investigator Mark Mahoney wrote in the complaint.
“The main body of the device landed approximately 75 yards away in the grass across the street,” he wrote.
Investigators think the pipe bomb was placed in the mulch surrounding a tree in the parking lot. The three trees in the mulch all had decorative lighting. The lights on the tree directly in the area of the explosion were no longer working, and brown wiring was found in the area of the explosion, the document states.
“There was a brown extension cord that was frayed on one end, and the other end plugged into the tree lights,” Mahoney wrote.
Investigators with the FBI, Virginia State Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were asked to assist with the investigation.
Powers told investigators inside his Gloucester home on Friday that he had traveled past Williamsburg on Colonial Parkway about 3:30 p.m. the previous day to pick up his wife. However, his wife worked in the other direction, behind York High School, according to the document.
Powers told investigators he was given a “play-by-play” of the incident by a co-worker named “Karen” via cellphone.
Powers gave consent to investigators and a bomb search team to check inside and outside the home on Village Drive. A Newport News Police Department K9 officer saw “in plain view” in the kitchen an end cap that had a screw through its center. It had a logo of an “M” on it with a triangle.
“This is the similar end cap with the same logo found on scene of the blast,” Mahoney wrote. “Also, approximately six brown extension cords were seen upstairs in a plastic shopping bag in a drawer that matched the brown extension cord on scene.”
Investigators also found “in plain view” in the kitchen electrical tape, a multimeter, wire cutters, a model rocket initiator and two paint cans, each with a hole in the top, according to the document.
Powers told investigators the pipe was a homemade shotgun, which he learned how to make on YouTube. Toward the end of the interview, he volunteered that his credit card had been stolen and that it had an unauthorized purchase of $120 on Oct. 16.
Investigators tracked that purchase to the Hampton Bass Pro Shop where Powers was seen on video making the purchase about 3:30 p.m. with his 1½-year-old son, the complaint states.
Little is known about Powers, who was denied bond during an appearance Monday morning in Williamsburg-James City County General District Court.
Powers has been employed as a maintenance worker for Colonial Williamsburg for more than two years and has lived in the Gloucester County area for about nine years, court documents show.
Powers told investigators during his interview that he had served in Iraq with the U.S. Air Force, but officials later determined that was false.
A Defense Criminal Investigative Service agent checked military records and determined that Powers fabricated his story about serving in Iraq. Powers was a Department of Defense civilian who went active duty as a dental technician in 2006-07, according to the criminal complaint.
“Powers was never deployed to Iraq and was discharged honorably from the military,” Mahoney wrote.
In his interview, Powers confirmed to investigators his earlier statements about “Adramelech.” He said an Arabic lady used this word and cursed his unit while he was in Iraq. Powers said all the people he served with in Iraq are now in jail because he testified against them, or they died overseas, the document states.
“It is very unlikely that anyone other than Powers created the second letter since, according to Powers, the only person who knows the significance of the word Adramelech served with him in Iraq,” Mahoney wrote.
Aside from a 2011 traffic infraction and 2014 Schedule 7 bankruptcy filing, Powers has a clean record, court records show.
Bankruptcy court records show that Powers and his wife, Tiffany Powers, were unable to make their monthly payments on nearly $45,000 in debt when they filed in 2014.
The Powers’ take-home wages — from his job then at 7-Eleven, and hers at Tidewater Physicians Multispecialty Group — came up $43 short of their monthly expenses, according to the document.
The couple was relieved of $600 in federal income taxes owed; $8,540 in medical bills; and $35,741 in credit card debt and unsecured credit union and bank loans and fees, the document shows.
Powers’ next court appearance is scheduled in Williamsburg-James City County General District Court at 2 p.m. Dec. 7.
Staff writers Jimmy LaRoue and Kate Mishkin contributed to this report. Ketchum can be reached by phone at 757-247-7478.