Neighbor: Explosions heard often at Germantown home where alleged bombmaker blew fingers off [updated]

 The home where an explosion cost Douglas Ferrin several fingers Wednesday morning sits next to a Sunoco gas station in Germantown. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

The home where an explosion cost Douglas Ferrin several fingers Wednesday morning sits next to a Sunoco gas station in Germantown. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Douglas Ferrin’s home sits right next door to a Sunoco gas station located at the corner of West Queen Lane and Greene Street in Germantown.

Two signs are posted on its front door. One asks the Fed Ex deliveryperson to call his mobile phone upon arrival because “I often can’t hear a knock.” The other states, in all capital letters, “Please no visiting after 9:00 p.m. Thanks.”

A woman answering that mobile phone on Thursday morning told NewsWorks that Ferrin couldn’t talk right now since he was at Albert Einstein Medical Center.

The scene that neighbor Kaniyah Nickson described explains why.

“The other morning, we heard a loud boom, and then screaming,” Nickson said of the 4:05 a.m. Wednesday explosion that brought police, medics and the bomb squad to her block. “When they were taking him to the ambulance, he was screaming ‘I blew my fingers off.'”

Accident or bomb-making?

What started as a story about a 54-year-old Germantown man losing part of his right hand after an M-80 explosion has turned into an investigation in which police said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ local field office was involved.

On Thursday morning, District Attorney’s Office Spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson confirmed to NewsWorks that Ferrin would be charged with weapons of mass destruction, risking catastrophe and assorted other offenses. He would be taken into custody once his medical condition permitted, she added.

Ferrin faced similar charges in connection with a St. Patrick’s Day 2011 “bathroom explosion at Molly Maguire’s Irish Restaurant” in Phoenixville.

Chester County court records show that he pleaded guilty to “a “Reckless Burning or Exploding – places property having value that exceeds $5000 or automobile, place” charge in connection with the case.

The image atop Ferrin’s website is the Goya painting “Saturn Devouring One Of His Children” which, when cropped, resembles someone with a bloody hand missing several fingers.

Neighbors react

After medics took a screaming Ferrin off to Einstein, neighbors turned to Google. The presence of, and chatter among, investigators convinced them to do so.

That’s where they read about the Molly Maguire’s case. And that’s what got them to thinking about the past three years he was their neighbor.

“He’s a nice guy. If you didn’t know about all that, he wouldn’t creep you out,” Nickson told NewsWorks on Thursday. “There were a few times, in the middle of the night, when we’d hear loud booms. Really loud booms. And we’d see smoke coming out of [the area of the house]. It was always between 12 and 4 a.m.

“On New Year’s 2013, about five minutes [after midnight], we heard, ‘BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.’ Never saw him do anything. All we would do is hear it.”

Noting that police were regularly called to the area after the explosions, Nickson recounted a time when a package for Ferrin was left at her home.

“We went over and told him a package came to our house for him. He said, ‘It isn’t a bomb, is it?'” she recounted. “The woman who was with him said he was just kidding.”

One thing bothered Nickson most about what she’d learned about her neighbor during the previous day.

“It’s crazy. There’s a gas station right next door,” she said. “We didn’t feel good about that.”

Updates

4 p.m. Thursday: Steven Bartholomew, public information officer for the local ATF office, said an ongoing joint task-force investigation will look into where Ferrin procured the explosives, what his plans were for them and other yet-known details.

11:30 a.m. Friday: Philadelphia Police issued a release regarding Ferrin’s arrest. It reads as follows:

“On Wednesday, May 7, 2014, at 4:05 a.m. police responded to the 100 block of Queen Lane for a report of an explosion.

“Upon arrival, officers were met by Douglas Ferrin, a 54-year-old male that resides at that location bleeding from a severe hand injury. Ferrin was transported to Einstein Hospital in stable condition.

“Ferrin is charged with Weapons of Mass Destruction, Causing/risking a Catastrophe, Possessing an Instrument of Crime, and related charges.

“Ferrin has not been arraigned due to his medication condition; therefore, a photo is not available at this time.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.