The Potato Bomber
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
It’s a quiet morning and the radio is dead, until we get a call for an EDP — an emotionally disturbed person. Bronson complains, “Fireworks season and all we get is a crazy guy? Doesn’t anything real happen in this city?”
I’m surprised there haven’t been any fireworks injuries. The EDP is a low-priority job, which means we don’t use lights or sirens, and this annoys Bronson. But as I read the computer screen, I see it’s more interesting than I thought. There’s something about the person acting irrationally, and a bomb. “A bomb?” he says, brightening.
We respond to the location in Canarsie to find four police cars from the local precinct already on the scene. “The whole precinct is here,” Bronson says.
“Must be slow everywhere,” I say.
We approach the scene, and I catch the eye of one of the cops standing outside and ask her if it’s safe for us to enter. She says yes, and we go inside, where there are five more cops and a sergeant. The sarge is talking to a well-dressed woman in her 40s, who is telling him that her 16-year-old nephew — whom she is the legal guardian of — has been refusing to go to school and that she doesn’t think he’s been taking his meds. “He’s been fiddling around with something in the basement,” she says. “He keeps it locked.”
“Medical history?” Bronson asks.
“He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder,” she says. Also known as manic depression, it’s a diagnosis bandied around a bit too often, in my opinion. We go into the bedroom to talk to the boy. Two cops are with him.
Bronson asks, “Hey. How you feeling?”
He blinks at us. “Fine.”
I whisper to one of the cops, “How about the bomb?” He whispers back that they haven’t found it yet. “No bomb yet,” I mouth to Bronson from across the room, so that the boy doesn’t see me. Then I come into his range of vision, and approach him to take his blood pressure.
Bronson asks the youngster if he wants to hurt anyone.
He shakes his head. “No. I just like science.”
All of a sudden, the sarge comes over and tells us we all have to get out. We exit quickly and wait on the sidewalk for what seems like a long time, while the cops investigate. Finally, the sarge comes over to us and tells us it turns out the teenager built a small device out of a pipe that apparently can shoot a potato several hundred yards.
“A potato shooter?” I say.
“Can it shoot French fries?” Bronson asks.
We go inside and the boy leads us and the cops down to the damp, dank basement. The décor is straight out of “The Silence of the Lambs,” and I half expect to see a prisoner trapped in a pit and a bunch of luna moths flying around. On a table, there’s some sort of high school science project, topped with a tangle of wires. The boy offers to show us how it works. “It’s really fascinating,” he says, and attempts to stuff an Idaho potato into the hole.The cops grab his arms before he can light the fuse. He shrugs.”It only pops out about 10 feet anyway. I still have a lot of fine tuning to do.”
“Impressive,” the sarge says. “Now we’re arresting you.”
The boy looks down, guilty as charged. “I know.”
The cops handcuff him and lead him to the back seat of a patrol car. I ask the sarge if the boy is still an EDP, which means we would take him to the G Building, the psych ward, of Kings County Hospital. “No,” he says. “Now he’s a collar.” That means he’s being arrested as someone in their right mind who built a device that looks to all concerned, in this perpetually orange-alert city, like a pipe bomb.
His guardian tells us he’s a straight-A student, and she asks the cops if this incident will go on his permanent record.
“Just a science nerd who needs to keep up with his meds,” Bronson says, as we get into the ambulance and drive away. A few blocks away, he says, “I wanted to see it shoot a potato.”
I disagree. “Those vegetable bombs are no joke.”
“It would have been the perfect way to kill some time,” he says, “watching the bomb guys in their dress-up suits. Too bad it shot only spuds.”
At a nearby bodega, while he’s buying an iced tea, I reach into a potato bin and toss a tuber at him. “Lookout!” I shout.
He catches it and holds it in his hand. “Do you remember in junior high school attaching wires to a potato and running a lightbulb from it?”
I do remember something like that.
Ms. Klopsis is an emergency medical technician on an ambulance in Brooklyn. This column details her observations and experiences. Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients.