TRUSSVILLE, Ala. (WIAT) — A Birmingham man who claims affiliation with the Black Panthers and Black Mafia and a woman have been arrested and charged in connection with the bomb threat at Magnolia Elementary School last week.
The charges come after Trussville police, the ATF and Metro Area Crime Center worked together to find who was behind the suspicious device containing explosives on a vehicle in the school’s parking lot.
On Nov. 16, Magnolia Elementary School students were put on lockdown in the storm shelter while officials examined the device left on a vehicle in the parking lot and rendered it harmless. Other Trussville schools were put on soft lockdown as a precaution.
Investigators discovered the device, made with a timer, wires, gun powder and playdough, was not equipped to actually detonate, but was made to look like a functional bomb to draw a large amount of law enforcement officers to the scene.
Captain Jeff Bridges with the Trussville PD says investigators were led to the suspects, Zachary Edwards, 35, and Raphel Dilligard, both of Birmingham, through a phone call made to 911. The caller, reportedly Edwards disguising his voice as a women, claimed to see a man leave a bomb on a car in the parking lot. Police say the phone was registered to Edwards’ residence. They also found surveillance footage believed to be of Dilligard, Edwards’ girlfriend, purchasing the timer and play-dough from the Irondale Walmart.
Investigators took the duo into custody late Tuesday night at their Birmingham residence and questioned them. Bridges explained Edwards began to confess, and claimed to be affiliated with the Black Panthers and the Black Mafia. Those claims have not been confirmed by officials. Bridges said he first confessed the device was left to lure officers to the location where they would be shot, then told investigators later that the device was also placed to create a diversion so he could rob a bank while the police were there.
Bridges said he told investigators he had associates and was planning to do both–rob a bank and shoot the cops. Police believe Edwards was serious and intended to do harm.
When officials examined the device at the scene, they thought it looked like a diversion, and sent patrols to the banks and other high-profile areas.
ATF Agent David Hyche said just because the device was not enabled to work, he doesn’t think the term “hoax” device is suitable, because it had explosives in it, and was most of what you need to make a real, functional bomb.
“The device was constructed to look like a bomb, and had the components of a bomb,” Hyche said. “It disturbed us from the start.”
Hyche continued that he doesn’t understand why you would put real explosives in a bomb not meant to be functional.
Bridges said Edwards told them he went to a bank, intending to rob it, but stopped when he saw a patrol car in the parking lot.
Edwards and Dilligard are both charged with possession of a hoax destructive device, rendering false alarm, and making terrorist threats. Police believe her role was buying the components used to make the device; they tell us she had confessed as such.
Edwards has a criminal history; according to court records, he was charged with attempted murder in 1999 and convicted. Records say Edwards was sentenced to 15 years for his conviction, but it was shortened to three. He was indicted on another attempted murder charge in 2006 after getting out of prison, allegedly for trying to kill a man with a shotgun.
Officials said Wednesday afternoon that there were disturbing things said during the interview. As for the possible reason for leaving the device at the elementary school, Bridges said: ““It always seem to be a little worse if children are involved….and maybe that’s what these defendants were thinking. If you do something at a school, you’ll get more attention.”
Police say they will continue to look into Edward’s claim that he had associates, and continue to investigate. They also may be facing federal charges.
This article will be updated as this story develops