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'Prank' explosive devices disrupt Newberry College

A college prank at normally quiet Newberry College "spun out of control" late Tuesday and early Wednesday, causing explosions and forcing the evacuation and search of a freshman dormitory.

There were no injuries, said authorities, who stressed the prank was not connected in any way to terrorist elements.

"It was a college prank that turned out very, very bad," Newberry Sheriff Lee Foster said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference. "It was not a technical terrorist act."

The explosions took place outside Brokaw Hall, a 293-student dorm for freshmen.

Four people, apparently students, were questioned Wednesday afternoon about their possible connection to what officials said were small homemade explosive devices. Reports indicated the suspects may face criminal charges.

Foster said the devices were made in plastic drinking water bottles using a chemical reaction from common household items. The devices were not capable of causing serious damage, but Foster made it clear they were dangerous.

"This thing could hurt somebody, or it could hurt the manufacturer," he said.

The only damage done was minor carpet burns in Brokaw Hall from the chemicals, officials said.

But officials said the incident caused widespread disruptions at the 1,080-student campus as the dorm closed down and parts of the campus were sealed off. Swarms of law officers, firefighters and bomb squad specialists descended on the 90-acre campus.

Officials gave this sequence of events:

- About 11:30 Tuesday night, a minor explosion went off in the Brokaw dormitory parking lot. Newberry City Police officers in the area heard the explosion and believed it to be a gunshot and investigated. They could not locate the blast's source.

- At 12:50 Wednesday morning, a second minor explosion occurred in Brokaw's lobby. The student affairs office began questioning students and located items commonly used in a pressure device. The items were taken from a dormitory room.

- Shortly after 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, a third explosion occurred, again inside Brokaw.

After the third blast, students in the dormitory were evacuated, and the State Law Enforcement Division bomb squad was called. Bomb-sniffing dogs and bomb robots were sent in.

The 153-year-old Newberry College is affiliated with the Lutheran Church.

Newberry police and fire departments, the county sheriff's department, SLED and the FBI were among the agencies on the scene.

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