soldier puzzled by stolen box of armor-piercing grenades | Florida News
By KRISTIN M. HALL and JUSTIN PRIITCHARD, Associated Press
The green tin box was stuffed into a hot pink pillowcase and hidden in the bushes behind Christopher Zachery’s house. He took it out to get a better look.
Stencil on the box: “Cartridges for weapons”. Inside were 30 armor-piercing grenades.
“I was scared,” said Zachery, who runs a construction company. And confused. How did those high powered explosives end up in his backyard in southwest Atlanta? Where do they come from?
Investigators determined that the curved grenades were last seen eight months earlier on an ammunition train from Florida. Someone had stolen them from somewhere on the tracks to Pennsylvania, another example in an Associated Press investigation that shows how the military’s vast supply chain is susceptible to theft.
The Marines are calling the stocky 40mm shells that appeared in Zachery’s yard that sunny February morning in February 2018 “40 mike-mikes.” They are linked together to power an MK 19 launcher, a weapon that resembles a grenade machine gun, capable of shooting nearly a mile every second.
While waiting for the bomb unit, Atlanta police evacuated five homes in both directions, along with neighbors across the street. The cartridges can penetrate three inches of steel and have a destruction radius of nearly 50 feet.
The cartridge began its journey at Blount Island, a US Marine Corps depot in Jacksonville, Florida. Six flatbed cars carried 18 large storage containers called conex boxes, each with an orange “Explosives” warning sign on the side. On car DODX48916, inside container USMC007574-6, 40mm rounds of cartridges were stacked like soldiers in bunks.
The train’s detour route crossed Atlanta twice before arriving 17 days later at the Letterkenny military depot in central Pennsylvania. There, a worker unpacking the container discovered the theft.
Where, when, who, how – investigators were lost.
A series of security breaches covered all traces left by the thief.
The armed guards accompanying the shipment reported nothing. When the train reached Letterkenny, it was transferred overnight to Rail Yard 1, an unsecured transit area outside the facility and unattended.
Upon arrival, workers did not verify that the anti-theft seals on each container were intact. An inspector also didn’t check the seals the next day, later saying it was because he couldn’t see them.
Another day passed before workers noticed the broken seals. The first worker who saw the cut wooden frame used to hold the pallets of cans together thought it had broken during transport. Then he noticed that a metal strap that keeps each cartridge snug against the wood had also been cut and a box was missing.
Military investigators would conclude that no one checked the seals in the weeks after the train left Blount Island.
Workers unpacked the entire container to see if anything else had been stolen, clearing out the debris. For investigators, this meant that the crime scene near the X-11-G loading dock was irreparably contaminated.
The Pentagon inspector general wrote that the disappearance of the grenades “further underscored the lack of adequate security for rail shipments” of military weapons, explosives and ammunition.
The military does not have a centralized tracking system for rail shipments like this, but rather relies on contractors to deliver weapons and explosives safely. This shipment was the responsibility of rail freight giant CSX Corp., which supplied everything from the locomotive and tracks to guards and engineers to the dozen marshalling yards where the train stopped en route.
CSX said in a statement that required security protocols were followed during shipment and that “no seal exceptions were identified while the container was in our possession.”
The last hope for clues came when the grenades appeared in Atlanta. But instead of treating the cartridge as evidence, explosives specialists at Dobbins Air Force Base took it and detonated it.
There was only one thing. The cans are packed with 32 cartridges. This one only had 30.
Hall reported from Nashville, Tennessee; Pritchard reported from Los Angeles.
Contact Hall at https://twitter.com/kmhall and Pritchard at https://twitter.com/JPritchardAP.
Email the AP Global Investigation Team at [email protected] See other work at https://apnews.com/hub/ap-investigations.
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