Publish Date: 6/22/2007
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Braeden Atwood, 11, listens to officials with the Longmont Police Department answer his question during a community meeting Thursday at Grace Evangelical Free Church in Longmont. Residents who live near 2404 Sunset Drive were invited by the police department to discuss the recent investigation regarding explosives at the home. Braeden, who recently finished the fifth grade at Sanborn Elementary School, asked about the safety of the school and wanted to know if police know if any other people in the neighborhood are harboring explosives or chemicals. Times-Call/Joshua Buck
‘I am not sure I feel all that safe’
Explosives arrest rattles neighbors
By Pierrette J. Shields
The Daily Times-Call
LONGMONT — Neighbors of a man arrested Sunday on suspicion of possessing explosives met with police Thursday evening and peppered them with questions about the safety of their children, streets and homes.
With Ronald Swerlein, 50, out of jail on bond, some neighbors worried about possible interactions with a man suspected of keeping and experimenting with a cache of 400 chemicals — some highly explosive or unstable — in his home at 2404 Sunset Drive.
Swerlein’s house sits near a park and Sanborn Elementary School.
“We kind of have a sense of not being secure right now,” said Janelle Leudeman, one of about 50 residents who attended the meeting at Grace Evangelical Free Church. “I am not sure I feel all that safe sending my kids into places that are supposed to be kid-friendly.”
Police suggested neighbors work together, and with police, to make the neighborhood safe.
Investigators and Police Chief Mike Butler on Thursday addressed concerns and rumors that have developed over the course of the week since the Longmont SWAT team raided Swerlein’s home on June 15, and again Tuesday.
Swerlein, a retired electrical engineer, was arrested Sunday morning after police identified some of the chemicals as explosive. He is free on a $50,000 bond and is due back in court today for filing of charges in the case.
He told police he is a “nerd” who was using the chemicals to develop model rocket fuels. Police said his chemical collection went far beyond a rocketry hobby.
A resident who identified herself only a “Gail” said she is scared of returning to the neighborhood and wants a plan to ensure resident safety.
“I don’t think I am alone. We cannot leave today without a clear and concise plan to feel safe in the neighborhood,” she said. She also suggested that officials find a way to get help for Swerlein.
“Someone needs to ask the man why,” she said.
Police stumbled onto Swerlein when a neighbor called to report explosions from his home.
Longmont Police Sgt. Tim Lewis said 15 earlier calls reporting fireworks, transformer explosions, and gunfire did not specifically lead officers to 2404 Sunset Drive until last week.
Longmont detectives are trying to make sense of evidence seized from the home, Lewis told residents. None of it so far indicates Swerlein had any plans to use the explosives outside of his own yard, he said.
“Truly, we have that he was doing this as one of his hobbies and his projects,” Lewis said.
Police have cleared the house and Swerlein and his wife may move back in and begin cleaning the mess left behind by searches and tear gas if they choose. That left some neighbors uneasy.
“What if he wants to get revenge on the neighbors who turned him in?” neighborhood resident Dennis Bruns asked.
Butler said he empathizes with neighbors, but said the police do not have the authority to keep him out the the neighborhood or his home.
“We do not believe he will be able to do what he has been doing in the past,” Butler said. “We will be doing extra patrols in the area.”
Lewis noted that Swerlein’s bond conditions require that he not possess chemicals or weapons. Swerlein has not been charged or tried and has a right to be presumed innocent, Lewis noted. He will not be under police surveillance and control.
Victim advocates were on hand to speak with neighbors who felt traumatized by the police presence and the discovery of the chemicals. Butler said residents who were related to victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings live in the area and told him about their fears.
Cindy McIntosh said she has lived just three doors down from the Swerlein home since 1985 and doesn’t know Swerlein.
“I don’t know if I have ever seen him,” she said. “You just didn’t see him doing yard work or shoveling snow.”
She said she heard at least one explosion but didn’t call police.
She said is is not scared to live in the neighborhood but will be more aware.
“I am not afraid. I think if you worry to much about something you take it into yourself,” she said.
Butler arranged for residents to meet again next week with Longmont neighborhood resources coordinator Jon Clarke. McIntosh said she believes the experience will bring the neighborhood together.
“I believe because of this our neighborhood will be safer because we’ll all be watching,” she said.
Investigators spent the weekend seizing about 400 different chemicals from the house and detonated a store of nitroglycerin in the garage, which damaged the garage door on Swerlein’s home.
Police also seized guns, ammunition, literature from an animal-extremist group known to used arson and explosives, stun guns, a Taser, lasers, and books on explosives and revenge. More than 1,000 items were seized.
Pierrette J. Shields can be reached at 303-684-5273, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.