Using decorative lights at Colonial Williamsburg as a timer, a former maintenance worker at the living history museum blew up a pipe bomb in 2017 near his work, according to new court documents.
Stephen James Powers, 31, pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of illegally possessing destructive devices and making a false statement to investigators. The Gloucester man faces up to 25 years in prison when sentenced May 2 in U.S. District Court in Norfolk.
The pipe bomb exploded about 5 p.m. Oct. 19, 2017, in a Merchants Square parking lot at the corner of Francis and South Boundary streets. Pieces of metal were thrown up to 150 feet away, but no one was injured.
According to a statement of facts filed with the court, the bomb was filled with smokeless gunpowder and designed to take advantage of strings of white lights that adorn trees in the area.
The bomb featured a brown extension cord. One end snaked inside the pipe, allowing bare wires to touch the powder. The other was plugged into an electrical socket meant to power the lights — which were scheduled to turn on at 5 p.m. each day.
Federal prosecutors Eric Hurt and Robert Bradenham II declined to comment on Powers’ plea, as did his lawyer, Keith Kimball of the federal public defender’s office.
Powers was a Colonial Williamsburg employee until September 2017, when he started working there as an independent contractor.
The Williamsburg Police Department started looking into him about a week before the explosion.
Firefighters and security personnel responded Oct. 11, 2017, to a report of a sulfur smell at the Colonial Williamsburg maintenance office. They didn’t find anything.
The next day, Powers told police he’d found a handwritten note on the office door that said, “I am sorry my device did not work last night. -D,” according to documents filed in state court.
On Oct. 14, 2017, Powers said he found a second note on the door that mentioned “Adramelech.” He told police only people he had served with in Iraq would know the word, but investigators determined Powers never served there.
Powers also claimed to have received a third letter on Oct. 18 in his mailbox.
Federal agents interviewed Powers on Oct. 20, 2017. And with his permission, they searched his home.
The agents found a Wells Fargo credit card Powers claimed had been stolen, as well as six brown extension cords and a section of pipe and an end cap similar to those used in the bomb.
Agents later determined, thanks to video and receipts, that Powers bought three containers of smokeless powder Oct. 16, 2017, from Bass Pro Shops in Hampton.
In light of the evidence recovered from his home, Powers was arrested on state charges and booked into the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail. There, he told another inmate he made the bomb and that more bomb components were hidden in his home.
Agents got a search warrant for the home and searched the attic. Under some insulation, they found three sections of pipe, six end caps and one extension cord with the female end cut off. There also was a container of rocket engine igniters and three model rocket engines.
Under some nearby insulation, agents also found three containers of smokeless powder and the other end of the extension cord.
Scott Daugherty, 757-446-2343, email@example.com