UPDATE — State police have confirmed during a news conference on Thursday that bomb-making materials and chemicals were located inside the home of Michael Hilliard in Horseheads during the search earlier this week, causing a shutdown of a portion of downtown for three days.
The investigation into Hilliard started after residents in the Town of Veteran reported the sound of at least one explosion around 11 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 5. Police confirmed that a response was made to the area, but nothing was found during the search.
On Nov. 6, an explosive device was found by a town employee on Merka Road in Veteran. Police say the device could have been detonated from at least 6000ft away, and that it was the only device found on Merka Road.
Following the finding of the explosive in Veteran, Hilliard was made a suspect and was located by police and tracked.
Hilliard, originally from Oregon, moved to Horseheads five years ago, police couldn’t say his occupation, but confirmed he was the person driving the Uhaul truck in Tompkins County where he was found and arrested on Nov. 11. Police say that nothing was inside the truck and that it had nothing to do with the explosives, believing it was just being used as a means of transportation.
Police say that Hilliard is believed to have worked alone based on the materials found inside his apartment, and is facing state charges at this time, criminal possession of a weapon in the first degree, but could face federal charges.
According to the Assistant District Attorney for Chemung County, based on that charge alone, Hilliard could face a minimum of five years in prison with a maximum of 25 years, but more charges could be pending.
When it comes to the materials found inside Hilliard’s apartment, police say they’re still not sure where it all came from, and can’t speak on a motive at this time.
“Mr. Hilliard was a resident of New York basically for five years after moving here,” said NYSP Troop E Commander Major Miklos Szoczei. “In that five-year period either he brought some of those items with him, or he amassed them at the residents that he lived at in Horseheads,” he said.
Szoczei said that they’re still trying to see how he obtained the materials as some could be purchased easily online, while others were much harder to obtain.
As part of a response from federal agents, chemists were brought in from Quantico, Virginia, and Alabama to identify and test materials that were found inside Hilliard’s apartment.
Disposal efforts were put in place over three days, Nov. 12, 13, and 14, where some of the materials were taken from the apartment and moved to a gravel pit in Erin and safety detonated. Major Szoczei said that there was a “huge risk” to the surrounding area if some of the materials were to have accidentally gone off inside the apartment.
“I’m not an explosives expert either, but I know based on what my team that I worked with told me, and we had to take it step-by-step,” Szoczei said, “if we didn’t we could have a situation, so, we were lucky,” he said.
The investigation is still ongoing as police determine the motive or a possible target. Police say that both state and federal partners will continue to work through the prosecution as the case develops.
HORSEHEADS, N.Y. (WETM) — Police are expected to conduct a news conference at 10 a.m. on Thursday to provide more details into the arrest of Michael Hilliard, the Horseheads man charged after a possible explosive device was found on the side of the road in the Town of Veteran on Nov. 6.
The discovery of the possible device led police and federal agents to investigate Hilliard and his home on South Main Street in Horseheads.
A portion of the road and a large area were blocked off to both vehicle and foot traffic around the home for numerous days as teams worked to remove potentially hazardous materials from inside.
Tents and men in white hazmat gear were set up and seen surrounding the area as a large truck was seen taking something from the area.
The area was opened back up on Tuesday, Nov. 14, around 5 p.m.