Editor's Note: This story was updated at 5:26 PM with comment from the Des Moines Police Department.
In what feels like a discarded script from an cable-network drama, a man who believed that everyone is so preoccupied that he could sit in a public place and casually build a bomb decided to prove his point by doing that very thing.
On Tuesday evening, 40-year-old Ivory Lee Washington took a seat in the Akebono 515 sushi restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa, and started pulling several items out of a sealed container. He moved from table to table undisturbed, and when Akebono’s manager noticed that he was periodically plugging something into the power outlets, he assumed Washington was just charging his phone.
At 6:40 PM, when no one had called 911 to report his behavior, he called the Des Moines Police Department on himself. According to KCCI, Washington initially told officers that his DIY explosive device was a fake, but the bomb squad was called to the restaurant to collect it anyway.
“The device was an operable improvised explosive device. It would have detonated had he chosen to do so, and the potential of an accidental detonation existed as the device could have exploded if exposed to static electricity,” Sgt. Paul Parizek told MUNCHIES. “Following their diagnostic testing, the Des Moines Police Department Bomb Squad did detonate a sample of the explosive from the device. The device was legit."
If Washington had chosen to detonate his device, any customer within 25 feet of his table would’ve been injured, and those within 10 feet might’ve been killed.
“He claimed that he was taking this action to draw attention to the fact that society does not care about safety, and to also ‘test’ the police department response,” Parizek said. “I think he saw his action as necessary; he remarked that he had done the same thing earlier in the day in a suburb, and became frustrated when nobody called the police. He then came to the downtown Des Moines neighborhood because there were more people there.”
Akebono 515 did not close during or after the incident—although it was temporarily evacuated when the police department arrived on Tuesday night—and it was open on Wednesday, as usual. The Des Moines Register reports that Washington did not have a previous criminal record, and that his first court date will be on January 25.
He is currently being held in the Polk County Jail on charges of possession of explosive or incendiary material with intent. “This is an excellent example of the potential dangers of people in our communities not saying something when they see something suspicious,” Parizek added.
In November, Arthur Posey was arrested after allegedly threatening to “blow the bathroom up” at Willie’s Chicken Shack in New Orleans. When police officers took Posey into custody, he told them that he just meant, you know, that he was going to “blow it up” with an explosive bowel movement. They didn’t buy it: he was arrested on charges of “communicating of false information of planned arson.”