When a mentally ill James City County man with a prior conviction for illegally possessing a firearm told his social worker he had a bomb, the social worker waited until the next day to call police.
Adam Thomas Helms, 31, was found not guilty by reason of insanity on July 31 after he was found with a homemade pipe bomb at his residence on Loch Haven Drive in March, according to filings in Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court.
According to Colonial Behavioral Health Director David Coe, the social worker’s decision not to call police immediately was a mistake. The social worker was an employee with the agency at the time.
“It’s really pretty straightforward: when a threat is communicated to one of our staff, it is that staff member’s responsibility to communicate with their supervisor and to contact law enforcement,” Coe wrote in an email. “Those two notifications are to be made immediately.”
Coe did not respond to a request for comment about the status of the case worker’s employment. Coe was on medical leave.
Helms was previously found guilty of possessing a firearm after being involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in October 2017, according to Williamsburg-James City County General District Court filings.
By March 2019, Helms was indigent, unemployed and living alone on Loch Haven Drive. He has lived in Williamsburg for nearly his entire life, according to court documents.
Leanne Gilmour, Helms’s next door neighbor, said in March that Helms had lived with his grandparents who raised him. Helms’ grandfather, Larry Conner, died in January and Helms has lived alone since.
Gilmour said she’d enjoyed having the family as her neighbors. Larry Conner and his wife, Barbara, would take care of Gilmour’s pets if she took a trip.
Barbara Conner died in 2012, according to an online obituary that lists both Larry Conner and Helms.
Helms’ social worker called 911 on March 22 to report he’d told them he had a bomb the day prior, the filings said.
Assistant Fire Marshal Michelle Toutaint was dispatched to investigate, as the Fire Marshals Office investigates explosive devices, James City Fire Marshal Kenny Driscoll said. Toutaint arrived first and other fire marshals and police officers arrived soon after.
Helms invited Toutaint and a police officer into his home to look at bomb-making materials including a fuse, metal piping with end caps, sulfur and black powder, according to court documents. He told the investigator he learned how to make the pipe bomb on the internet.
He told Toutaint and the officer he had been trying to find a place to detonate the bomb because he wanted to be arrested and taken to jail, not a mental health facility, according to the court documents.
Helms then told Toutaint he had an unloaded muzzleloading gun in the trunk of his car, the filings state. He later told investigators he knew he couldn’t possess firearms due to “his mental health diagnosis.”
Toutaint obtained a search warrant to search Helm’s property and the James City County Fire Department, Newport News bomb squad and local police cordoned off a section of Loch Haven Drive in Mirror Lakes to dispose of two explosive devices.
Helms told the officers the bomb was composed of a mixture of a gunpowder substitute, acetone and other chemicals in a steel pipe, according to the court documents.
One of the devices was complete while the other was not, the filings said.
Helms was arrested and transported to the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail the same day and booked at 6:22 p.m., according to jail records.
On July 31, Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court Judge Michael E. McGinty found Helms not guilty by reason of insanity and ordered his mental health to be evaluated.
An investigation needed
According to Diane Powers, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health Professions, it’d take an investigation to get to the bottom of the social worker’s failure to immediately report a person under their care who claimed to possess a bomb.
“In Virginia, health regulatory boards can neither confirm nor deny whether an investigation of a licensee is or is not underway,” Powers wrote in a statement.
For Coe, it’s an error an employee should never have made and it can never happen again.
“(The Virginia Gazette is) identifying a mistake that did take place and will not be repeated,” Coe said.
Steve Roberts Jr, email@example.com, 757-604-1329, @SPRobertsJr.