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Bomb threats, hoaxes have public and police on edge

Cases rise since April 15 attacks

Adam Crane, 24, with defense attorney Laura Fenn at the start of his dangerousness hearing at Woburn District Court. Crane allegedly set off pipe bombs in his backyard.

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE GLOBE

Adam Crane, 24, with defense attorney Laura Fenn at the start of his dangerousness hearing at Woburn District Court. Crane allegedly set off pipe bombs in his backyard.

Adam Crane, a 24-year-old truck driver recently discharged from the Army, allegedly set off small pipe bombs in his backyard and at the Burlington reservoir, once blowing up a watermelon.

His lawyer calls Crane an “immature kid who allegedly did something stupid.”

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But police aren’t taking him so lightly. They have charged Crane, who has no criminal record, with throwing an explosive device, which carries a minimum sentence of 2½ years. On June 11, a Woburn District Court judge ordered him held in jail for 90 days pending trial.

Police reaction to cases like Crane’s underscores authorities’ high degree of sensitivity after the April 15 Marathon attacks, in which two pressure cooker bombs killed three people and injured more than 260.

State Police point to recent incidents that suggest copycat threats. In Saugus, a pressure cooker was left between two cars in a mall parking lot, and in Topsfield an unstable man purportedly told police the pressure cooker in his closet was a bomb.

‘There are people jumping on this bandwagon who like to cause mayhem.’

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Neither of the kitchen appliances was an explosive device, but State Police say such incidents have caused chaos and fear, putting authorities and the public on edge. One official said troopers are “running ragged” responding to bomb threats, hoax devices, and calls about an unattended backpack or suitcase.

In Cambridge, officials said they have had 215 reports of unattended or suspicious packages from April 15 to June 6, compared with 11 reports during the same time last year. The MBTA has logged 295 such reports between April 15 and June 1, compared with 77 reports during the same time last year. None of the packages turned out to be bombs.

But some recent incidents proved real: In Lawrence, 16 middle school students face charges after police connected them to more than 150 chemical reaction bombs left in parks and empty streets in May. They probably will be referred to the state’s juvenile fire setter program, which seeks to avoid detaining young people and instead tries to steer them from making explosives.

It is unclear whether the number of real bombs has risen, as State Police have no statistics on that.

“Everything has become more suspicious,” said Sergeant Paul Horgan of the State Police. And “there are people jumping on this bandwagon who like to cause mayhem. They’re taking advantage of this situation to continue to put the fear in people.”

All of this comes at a time when the State Police bomb squad, a unit of 11 bomb technicians, says it is already busy chasing down amateur bomb-makers. As summer approaches and children are out of school, many, particularly teenage boys, while away lazy days making explosive devices using blueprints they take from the Internet.

Generally, police need to be aggressive even in cases where the intent of the suspects was to have fun with explosives, not destroy property or hurt someone, said Trooper Justin Peledge, who investigated the Crane case.

“Lighting paper towels in the sink turns into lighting up dumpsters, and that dumpster can be next to an apartment building,” Peledge said. He recalled a case when small pipe bombs were placed inside a series of mailboxes, when children were coming home from school.

“I don’t think it’s an attempt to hurt people, though clearly that’s what can happen,” Peledge said.

Gone are the days when intrepid teens looking to cause mischief would seek out a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook, a how-to guide for building bombs, said Trooper Stephen Sicard, a bomb technician.

“It went from an underground press into something that now everybody can find online,” he said. And while police may be busier than they wish, officials are encouraging parents, and storekeepers to watch for certain signs. For example, a teenage boy buying toilet cleaner is most likely not interested in tidying up the bathroom, Horgan said.

Prosecutors did not say where Adam Crane gathered his alleged know-how. But inside his house, they say, they found everything needed to make a pipe bomb: black powder, fuses, and plastic tubes that could contain the combustible materials.

According to a police report, officials were tipped off by Crane’s stepfather, who went to the department to say he had found a packing slip that listed three pounds of smokeless powder.

“His home, his bedroom is his little factory,” said Middlesex Assistant District Attorney Sarah Fallon. “We can’t send him back to his home and expect the community to feel safe.”

In court, Crane’s lawyer, Laura Fenn, said Crane’s family went to police out of concern for Crane, not fear. They did not expect police to shut down the street, evacuate their neighbors’ homes, or put a nearby elementary school in lockdown.

“There is this hypervigilance, this hyperalertness because of what happened,” Fenn said, referring to the April 15 attacks. “But we have to be able to avoid ascribing the motives and images of another event to a much less culpable situation.”

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeMCramer.

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