ATF begins investigation into Gulfport explosions

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - How did a civilian come to possess military explosives? That is the question being asked by federal investigators.

On Thursday, 33-year-old Dale Ray Johnson was cutting scrap metal with a blow torch, which is something his family says he did to earn some extra money.  However, things went terribly wrong when the metal he was cutting exploded.

"He didn't even know what it was," said Johnson's mother Kathy Guillotte.

According to his family, Johnson had purchased some scrap metal from another person, not knowing he was buying military explosives.

Johnson was severely injured in the explosion, but his family says he managed to make his way to his truck before collapsing. That's when family members came to his aid.

Family members say he was bleeding and badly burned.

"It's tragic.  We're just hoping and praying he makes it through everything. And, we were told that he had like a 25 percent chance," said Guillotte.

The authorities were called in to safely detonate other bombs found on the property.

Agents with the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms did not discuss how many explosives were found or the type, but did say that it was an extremely dangerous situation.

Looking around the property in the aftermath, you can see where shrapnel shredded through nearby boxes and propane tanks.

That same shrapnel caused extensive injuries to Johnson, and family members say it's a miracle he survived.

While Johnson fights for his life in the hospital, authorities with the ATF must unravel the mystery of how this situation came about.

"It would be speculation to guess where he acquired them, and that's one of the focuses of our investigation. How did he come to be in possession of these things? Why did we have the incident that we had last night?" said agent Joel Lee.

Joel says investigation would be slow and thorough, and that the federal agents would be asking for the public's help.

"From time to time, people innocently stumble upon a military ammunition or something that they just find around, lying around sometimes," said Lee. "The thing we must caution is those military ammunitions are volatile; they're very dangerous, and they should not be handled."

The investigators say it is too early to tell if any charges will be filed, and that they are keeping an open mind.

Anyone who may have information about the investigation is urged to call ATF at (228) 575- 6501, or Crime Stoppers.

Johnson remains in serious condition. However, he is recovering at USA Medical Center, officials said.

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