Columbine and other violent incidents in America’s schools have generated much interest into the question “What makes a child do that?”1 The residents of Littleton, Colorado, experienced this violence on April 20, 1999. Not often addressed was the fact that there were three dozen propane and filled destructive devices strategically located throughout the high school and in targeted vehicles.2 The two juvenile gunmen detonated several bombs, sending shards into the victims, indicative of a basic knowledge of manufacture and construction.3 The potential for annihilation at Columbine, had the other propane devices exploded, is unknown. Meanwhile, how many of America’s youth are also engaged in bomb-related activity and planning destructive actions that ruin self, family, and community? Nationwide, law enforcement and fire rescue departments are attempting to address the problem and combat the juvenile bomb-related incidents as well as firesetting in the child’s environments. 4-6

In 1998, adolescents committed 17% of all serious crimes and 25% of all serious violent crimes: 50% of their victims were juveniles.7 From 1993-1997, there were 13,510 actual or attempted explosives investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).8 As a result, 314 people died and another 2,915 received injuries. A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 1995 report9 indicated that pipe bombs accounted for 31% of all improvised devices.

Youth bomb data made available by the ATF indicated that juveniles are involved in the manufacturing and detonation of bombs. Despite the mandate that all bomb-related incidents under federal jurisdiction must be reported to the ATF, the actual number of bomb and related episodes on the local level may not be reported to the data bank. Thus, collecting a true picture of the problem has inherent systemic challenges because the ATF findings from 2000-2002 involved only federal incidents. Furthermore, all bomb-related event data, whether federal, regional, or local, is sought by the ATF for statistical purposes. The result of this incomplete compilation presents inherent problems in establishing prevalence rates for juveniles engaged in destructive activities. The challenges to establishing a solution to America’s violence concerns are compounded when strategic decisions are derived from limited information systems. The ATF data for 2000-2002 are listed in Table 1.

The statewide statistics, inconsistent for Florida, indicated that there were 21 incidents involving juveniles reported in 2000, 25 in 2001, and 12 in 2002.10 They were not recorded into federal categories. To complicate matters, other data collection sources have not yet released the numbers for 2000-2002. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Bomb Data Center statistics are current only through 1999. (10)

Not only are the records kept in multiple national agencies, but they are also kept in municipal and regional fire and police departments. Fire departments’ tracking and reporting of bomb activity to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) is a voluntary action. This information collection system underscores the challenges to any national databank. In addition, terminology has changed over time: Bombs are now classified as destructive devices.


Bomb construction directions are easy to obtain. A quick Web search on a commonly used search engine generated more than 1,820,000 hits for “bomb construction.” The most popular were Web sites dedicated solely to the manufacturing of bombs from small bottle rocket-type assembly to nuclear armament. The Anarchist’s Cookbook, authored by the Jolly Roger, appears most dominant on the popular search engines. Discussion groups have young teens chatting about the best propellants and bomb casing effectiveness.11

Children identified for bomb making and related activity may be sent to a variety of programs (i.e., juvenile firesetter intervention, juvenile justice, diversionary). Thus, due to data collection difficulty, terminology differentiation, and complexity of the reporting systems, the incidence rates for juveniles involved in bomb construction are uncertain and difficult to establish. Moreover, there is a paucity of shared information on juvenile bomb makers, a fragmentation of service providers, and challenges to interagency collaboration. Since many juvenile bomb makers in Broward County, Florida, are remanded into juvenile firesetting programs, the salient points become the question: What is the prevalence rate for destructive device and bomb makers embedded in a community-based juvenile firesetting program? Does this differ from the juvenile firesetter?


Juvenile bomb makers and firesetting children may be engaged in dissimilar activities. Youth engaged in both behaviors can be charged with the crime of arson: the intentional setting of a fire. In 2000, arson arrests increased 14.7% over 1999, and arrests of juveniles increased by 8.1%, up to 55%.12 Juvenile females demonstrated a 14.6% gain in arson arrests. In 1998, children under the age of 15 accounted for 67% of the arrests of juveniles; children under 12, 35%. (7)

Nationally, white males were most likely to be arrested for the crime of arson (79%). Only one percent of juvenile arsonists were remanded to a residential facility setting. The Office of Juvenile Justice reported that juvenile firesetters arrested in criminal activity ranged from 52% in 1998 to 54% in 1999.13

Prevalence rates for children reporting fireplay and fire interest range from 14% to 81%, with males expressing more interest than females.14 The knowledge of a juvenile who sets fires usually does not emerge until a fire department incident occurs.15 However, a literature search indicated there is a paucity of research on the juvenile engaged in destructive device manufacture and construction, leaving fire and arson investigators without sufficient information when working with juveniles in this classification.

The Broward County Fire Chief’s Association—encompassing all 22 municipalities within its geographic borders—established its community prevalence rates for juveniles engaged in destructive device (bomb) activity by examining the youth remanded to the intervention program for juvenile firesetters. Data were obtained from the Broward County Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Program over a three-year span: 2000-2002.


In the 2000-2002 period, 592 children were referred to the Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Network. Of these, there were two types of referrals: 538 for fire-related behaviors and 54 for bomb-related actions (see Table 2). Of these youths, 81.5% were involved in the construction or detonation of actual bombs, and 18.5% made verbal and/or written bomb threats. Fire department reports identified location and type (see Table 3).

Furthermore, investigation staff indicated 75.9% intended to craft and detonate the bomb. The most frequent bomb incident activity took place in 2001 (39.2%). The month with the largest bomb-related activity was April (17.3%). The day of the week with the most frequent incidents was Thursday (21.2%), followed by Monday (15.4%).

The average age of the bomb makers was 14.08 years; ages ranged from as young as 8 through 17 years. Twelve-year-olds comprised 17.0%, and late adolescents (16- to 18-year-olds) comprised 37.7% of the population. No females were present in the children referred for making bombs; ethnicity followed national norms (see Table 4 and Figure 1).

The majority (18.5%) of the bomb-referred children were from homes with married parents; 3.8% came from families in which the parents were divorced or separated; and 7.4% resided with single parents. However, 70.4% of the reports did not capture this information. Understanding the youths and their family systems is imperative to providing appropriate intervention services. The clinical component, the psychosocial assessment interview, provided some interesting information on a few of the differences between juvenile firesetters and juvenile bomb makers.

Parents of children remanded to the program completed a Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL);16 the contrast between the groups was salient. Firesetters had elevations on the attentional problems, thought problems, delinquent behaviors, and aggressive behavior scales. Juvenile firesetters in our sample seemed more likely to externalize (act out) their problems and concerns.

On the other hand, juveniles engaged in bomb actions appeared within typical limits on this standardized instrument—with the exception of a slight elevation in delinquent behavior (the borderline range). Overall, these children and adolescents did not present concerns or symptoms of problems.


Although a prevalence rate of 9.1% was established for Broward County, further investigation into the consistency of the prevalence should be ongoing. Comparison with other communities, both alike and dissimilar, is warranted to develop the most appropriate intervention protocol. These data provide for the development of two educational protocols for the community-based intervention: juvenile firesetter prevention, safety, and intervention programs as well as a concomitant series for those engaged in bomb construction and making bomb threats. Clinical interventions for evidenced-based treatment protocols are also necessary.

Future investigation to understand the prototypes and characteristics of the children who make bomb threats compared with those who manufacture and detonate explosives is compelling considering the inherent potential for devastation. The elevated scores on the CBCL may reflect the characteristics of a single child or may be inherent in the population that makes overt and covert threats. No generalizations can occur until more data are reviewed. The age range reflected a trend toward teenage youth; however children as young as eight detonated bombs, and 17% were age 12. Exploration into age means, the absence of females from the remanded population, and ethnic differences are relevant in developing a comprehensive understanding of the youth who engages in this high-risk behavior.

Collaboration among all the agencies involved in the bomb incidents, from fire and police on-site at the incident to the agencies within the legal system and the intervention providers, is imperative to implementing a more effective mechanism for change. Consistent noncompliance with legal mandates was evident. The majority of families ignored legally mandated program requirements despite potential ramifications. Study into the rationale behind this chronic noncompliance rate is vital.

To improve data collection, record-keeping systems need to track incidents post arrest. A community record-keeping system can be a useful source of information and should parallel that of the ATF to track the juveniles and conduct statistical analysis. In Broward County, a Web-based reporting system to improve uniform data capture is under construction. As a more efficient method of data collection develops among the municipal fire departments and other involved entities, evaluation of the data may provide crucial information. The current narrative reports are inconsistent; they are either rich in information or noticeably brief. Examination into the time of day in addition to the day of week may reveal findings consistent with juvenile justice information that after-school time is peak for delinquent behaviors; investigation into the month of year and day of week may be revealing in regard to bomb activity.

More investigation into the complexities and characteristics of juveniles engaged in bomb-related activity is warranted to prevent further destruction, injury, or loss of life.


1. Gibbs, N., “It’s only me,” Time, March 19, 2001, 22.

2. Jefferson County, Colorado, Sheriff’s Office, April 19, 2000.

3. Phillips, A., “Lessons of Littleton,” Maclean’s; May 3, 1999:112(18), 18-22.

4. Cloud, J, “The Legacy of Columbine,” Time, Mar. 19. 2001, 32-35.

5. Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Handbook. Federal Emergency Management Agency, United States Fire Administration, Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 2000.

6. Mulvey, E.P., and E. Cauffman, E, “The inherent limits of predicting school violence,” American Psychologist; 2001: 56(10), 797-802.

7. Snyder, H.N., “Juvenile Arrests 1998,” Juvenile Justice Bulletin, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Dec. 1999, 1-12.

8. Weiss, J., and M. Dresser, “Bomb threat recognition,” Law & Order, Jan. 2002, 75-79.

9. Crime in the United States, 1996, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997.

10. Statistical report on explosive incidents: Arson and explosives national repository, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Washington, D.C., 2003.

11. Shen, F., “Easy-to-make pipe bombs becoming toys for teens,” The Washington Post, Apr. 4, 1998.

12. Crime in the United States 2001: Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington D.C., 2001.

13. Snyder, H.N., “Juvenile Arrests 1999,” Juvenile Justice Bulletin, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Dec. 2000, 1-12.

14. Pinsonneault, I., “Developmental perspectives of children and fire.” In D. Kolko (Ed.), Handbook on Firesetting in Children and Youth. (Oxford: Academic Press), 2002, 15-31.

15. Kafry, D. 1980, “Playing with Matches: Children and Fire,” in Fires and Human Behaviour, ed. D. Canter, John Wiley & Sons, 1980, 47-61.

16. The Child Behavior Checklist is a questionnaire that yields scores for eight behavior syndromes: withdrawn, somatic complaints, anxious depressed, social problems, thought problems, attention problems, delinquent behavior, and aggressive behavior. Responses are captured on a three-point Likert scale (never, sometimes, often). CBCL is completed by the parent, and the Youth Self-Report is completed by the child. Source: Achenbach, T.M. and C. Edelbrock, Manual for the child behavior checklist and revised child behavior profile. (Burlington, Vt.: Queen City Printers), 1983.

This investigation was made possible through the cooperation and assistance of the Broward County Fire Chief’s Association, funding by the Firefighters Charitable Foundation, and the clinical support of the Broward County Clinical Services Department at Family Central.

DONNA M. FARANDA, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She is an advisory board member to the State of Florida’s Juvenile Firesetter Prevention and Intervention Task Force and an advisory member to Broward County’s Juvenile Firesetter Intervention Team and has conducted national research on juvenile firesetters, bomb makers, and arsonists. She received her doctorate from Carlos Albizu University, Miami, Florida, and is currently pursuing a post-doctoral master’s in clinical psychopharmacology from Nova Southeastern University.

NICHOLAS K. LIM, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology and the doctoral project coordinator at Carlos Albizu University, Miami, Florida.

STEVEN L. KATSIKAS, Ph.D., is an attending child psychologist in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (CAP) Clinic and director of child psychology in the Division of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Miami School of Medicine.

VENESSA M. FEGLEY, M.A., Psy.D., completed her doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Carlos Albizu University, Miami, in Fall 2004. She recently completed her doctoral internship with the Department of Justice, Federal Correctional Institution, Tallahassee, Florida. She received an M.A. from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1999.

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