ENMU science building evacuated due to bomb scare

Military and university police carry evidence out of Roosevelt Hall on Wednesday at Eastern New Mexico University after a search for explosive materials. The military unit used robotics to aid in the investigation. (Freedom Newspapers: Leslie Spence)

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

PORTALES — An Eastern New Mexico University chemistry student was arrested by Portales police at his home Wednesday night, hours after officials evacuated an ENMU science building following a bomb scare.

No injuries were reported, but law enforcement officials said explosive chemicals were removed from the building.

Joshua Gilpin, 28, an ENMU graduate student, is charged with possessing an explosive incendiary device, tampering with evidence and larceny, officials said.

He was in the Roosevelt County Detention Center on Wednesday night. Bond was set at $25,000 cash only.

University officials said a professor spotted four suspicious packages in Roosevelt Hall and notified police about 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Teachers and students in Roosevelt Hall, a building made up of chemistry and biology labs, classrooms and offices, were then told to leave the building, according to ENMU President Steven Gamble. Three nearby buildings were also closed until officials removed sealed containers from Roosevelt Hall, Gamble said.

Ordnance disposal experts from Cannon Air Force Base were called to the scene and recovered the packages. The Cannon team x-rayed and opened the cans, according to court records.

An agent from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives confirmed that three chemicals found would make an explosive device: sulfur, potassium nitrate and red phosphorus, court records show.

The buildings were reopened by 1 p.m. and classes resumed.

Chemistry professor Juchau Yan said all seven of his graduate and undergraduate students were present for his lecture at 1 p.m. on Wednesday in Roosevelt Hall. The bomb scare, Yan said, “Didn’t affect me.”

Police made contact with Gilpin on Tuesday morning after receiving a report of a “suicidal subject.” Gilpin told police he had discussed shooting himself with a rifle. He was arrested after officers found marijuana plants in his apartment.

Police spoke with a teacher and a student later Tuesday who said Gilpin was “experimenting with hazardous materials in the making of fireworks or explosive devices,” according to an arrest warrant affidavit. The allegation led to a search of Gilpin’s home on Tuesday night. But police said they did not find any explosive chemicals during their search of Gilpin’s home Tuesday night.

Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said officials believe Gilpin took chemicals from a university lab, then returned them to the lab.

Officials from Cannon, the Roosevelt County Sheriff and Fire Departments, Portales Police Department, New Mexico State Police Department and ENMU Police Department all responded to the threat, Gamble said.

Gilpin could face up to 4 1/2 years in jail if he’s convicted of all charges, 9th Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler said.

Here is a timeline of events related to Wednesday’s arrest of an Eastern New Mexico University chemistry student:

• 1:30 a.m. Tuesday: Portales police were summoned to Joshua Gilpin’s home in the 300 block of East Juniper “in reference to a suicidal subject.” Gilpin told police he had discussed shooting himself with a rifle, though his motive was not clear in police records. During the welfare check, police spotted two marijuana plants in Gilpin’s home, according to a police incident report. Gilpin was arrested for possession. Police also noticed that Gilpin had chemical vials and beakers in his kitchen, according to court records.

• 7 p.m. Tuesday: Portales police carried out a search warrant of Gilpin’s home to look for explosive material. A university staff member and student told police Gilpin was “making and experimenting with fireworks or explosives,” according to the search warrant affidavit. No explosive chemicals or devices were found in the search of Gilpin’s home, court records show.

• 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday: Roosevelt Hall on the ENMU campus was evacuated and police removed sealed cans filled with chemicals, ENMU President Steven Gamble said. Ordnance disposal experts from Cannon Air Force Base x-rayed and opened the cans, according to court records. An agent from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives confirmed that three chemicals found would make an explosive device: sulfur, potassium nitrate and red phosphorus, court records show.

• 5 p.m. Wednesday: Gilpin was booked at the Roosevelt County Detention Center, charged with possessing an incendiary explosive device; tampering with evidence and larceny. He is accused of moving chemicals from his home to Roosevelt Hall and stealing chemicals from Roosevelt Hall, Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said.