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Police arrest suspect in string of mysterious explosions in Phoenix

PHOENIX – Police on Monday arrested a suspect believed to be responsible for a series of mysterious explosions across a wide swath of northwest Phoenix in recent months.

Houston Willis, 44, faces three felony counts of depositing of explosives and 15 other charges related to the investigation, Sgt. Armando Carbajal said during a press conference.

From October 2018 until January, police received reports from callers who used terms such as “loud explosions,” “louder than a gunshot,” “saw flash,” “boom” and “loud bang,” Carbajal said.

The calls came from an area bounded by Thunderbird Road on the south, Happy Valley Road on the north, 67th Avenue on the west and Interstate 17 on the east.

One of the places that Willis is accused of placing an explosive device is Sunrise Elementary School, just west of the I-17 near 35th Avenue in Phoenix.

According to court documents, he was seen on Nov. 18 approaching a fence along a playground at the school shortly before an explosion occurred. The school was unoccupied at the time.

Sgt. Crista McCarthy, Phoenix Police bomb squad supervisor, said the explosions had the capacity to cause injuries, but nobody was hurt. There was property damage to landscaping and a large trash can, she said.

In December, police released a photo of a pickup truck they believed was connected to the explosions.

On Jan. 6, Willis was stopped in a vehicle that matched the description of the truck after officers heard an explosion and saw a flash near 35th Avenue and Union Hills Drive. The driver denied involvement after they stopped him.

“The suspect was released at that time but remained a person of interest for our bomb squad investigators,” Carbajal said.

Phoenix detectives working with other agencies, including the Glendale Police Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were later able to develop probable cause to arrest Willis, Carbajal said.

Officers arrested Willis without incident Monday morning near his home in the area of 35th Avenue and Deer Valley Road.

McCarthy said evidence was collected from his home and and truck, the investigation was ongoing, and more charges were possible.

Police didn’t report anything about a possible motive or the suspect’s knowledge of explosives.

McCarthy and Carbajal both said tips from the public played an important role in the investigation.

Willis is set to appear in court next on March 11.

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