NEWAYGO, MI — A 16-year-old whose homemade bomb exploded in his hands at Newaygo High School “knows he messed up,” his grandmother says.
“He’s very sorry for what happened. He’s very remorseful. He just can’t believe what he did and just knows he messed up,” Kathy Saylor told MLive outside the rural Newaygo County home raided by police and a bomb squad earlier this week.
“He was just showing his buddy and the friction from pulling it out of his pocket — what did they say, that static electricity — is what ignited it,” she said.
“He’s not a bad kid. He’s very smart. He’s just into that kind of stuff and that’s what he wants to do in the Army,” she said. “I told him ‘I hope you didn’t screw up your chance,’ because as soon as he got a chance that’s what he was going to do. He was going to go into the Army. He wants to take after his grandpa,” Saylor said.
Saylor’s husband served in the Army in the 1970s.
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The homemade bomb exploded shortly after 9 a.m. Monday, March 8 inside Newaygo High School. The 16-year-old lost the tips of his thumbs in the blast and four classmates and a teacher went to a hospital to be checked out.
The school was evacuated and classes were canceled for the remainder of the school day Monday.
Police soon after showed up Kathy Saylor’s house east of Hess Lake on 95th Street — complete with a bomb squad — and investigated for three days. Her son, 34-year-old David Robert Daniel Saylor, was arrested on a felony charge of manufacturing explosive devices and a misdemeanor of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The teen has not been charged with a crime in the matter as of Friday morning. The teen has been suspended from school pending expulsion proceedings, police said in a news release.
Kathy Saylor’s home was where her son and at least two grandchildren, including the 16-year-old, lived.
During a court hearing Wednesday before a Newaygo County probate judge, a Child Protective Services investigator said police determined that David Saylor and his son had designed, constructed and detonated explosives together over the course of months. The investigator said police found unsecured guns and explosives at the residence.
Kathy Saylor disputed that her adult son took an active role in making explosives with his son. She claims he lied to investigators in hopes of shielding his son from more significant repercussions.
“He was just doing it to protect his son. He wanted to take all the blow,” she said.
Saylor said her grandson, instead, watched videos using his Xbox One and learned about making explosives. Still, she said she had “no knowledge” that any explosive materials were in her house.
She has advised her son to come clean so he can still be a parent to his children and not be incarcerated for a lengthy period.
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“David is not a bad guy. He is a hard worker. He’s just trying to be a dad,” she said. “All he does is care for his family and work and play with his kids.”
Kathy Saylor admitted that she had guns in her home, but said they are legally registered.
She acknowledged that police, while searching her home and property, found two devices and some “materials” they ended up exploding at the scene for safety reasons. She said the items were found in her grandson’s bedroom and a garden shed he used as a workspace.
Near the high school, neighbor Sally Hetler watched the commotion unfold Monday morning. Windows on the rear of her home have a direct view of the school.
She said the situation left her with feelings of apprehension, particularly as a bomb squad gathered nearby.
Hetler told MLive she takes issue with anyone characterizing the explosion as an accident.
“It’s totally wrong, because he was exposed to this at home and he brought it to school. He knows better. I’m sorry, but I just feel that he was 16, and when someone is 16, they don’t have an adult mind. He shouldn’t have had that kind of stuff,” she said.
Jessica Held, a CPS investigator, said authorities do not think the 16-year-old intended to harm others when he brought the explosives to school. Rather, she said during a hearing in Newaygo County Probate Court, he “brought it to school to show friends when it went off in his hands.”
Newaygo County Probate Judge Michael Paige ordered Wednesday that children living with Saylor be removed from his home and placed with their mother.
State police have also said the teen “accidentally detonated a homemade explosive he brought to the school.”
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