Mountlake Terrace man says Lake Ballinger pipe bomb was actually geocache container

An example of a homemade geocache container made out of PVC pipe from geocaching.com.

An example of a homemade geocache container made out of PVC pipe from geocaching.com.

Jay Byron and grandson Marcos Sanchez hadn’t even got both their fishing lines in Lake Ballinger on Friday evening when their fishing trip was cut short by a mysterious find – a 4- to 6-inch cylinder tube made of PVC pipe, capped on both ends and wrapped in camo duct tape. An immediate call to the Edmonds Police Department resulted in closure of the Edmonds public access boat launch where the device was found; then the Washington State Patrol Interagency Bomb Squad was called in to examine the device, neutralize it and take it away.

A trooper with the WSP bomb team called it a “pipe bomb” and said, if detonated, it could “take your fingers off.” Edmonds police congratulated Byron and Sanchez for alerting them of the dangerous item and the boat launch was reopened to the public.

But Mountlake Terrace resident Doug Waterman says the whole episode was overblown because the device wasn’t a pipe bomb at all. It was a geocache container, which he put at the boat launch — with a pad of paper inside — in October 2010.

Waterman is a geocacher, one of thousands who take part in a recreational activity in which participants use Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to hide and find containers all over the world. There are more than 2 million geocaches hidden worldwide, and it is estimated more than five million people participate in the hobby.

Waterman, who has been involved with geocaching for years, said he was shocked when he first heard the cache was labeled a pipe bomb and taken away by the WSP bomb team. “I spit coffee all over my computer when I saw the story,” he said. “Yes, it was mine. White plastic tube, white plastic end caps, covered in camo duct tape; has a geocaching log inside to sign and whatever trinkets, toys or etcetera people drop off and trade. That one has been found 88 times and has been there since October 15, 2010.”

Waterman contacted the Edmonds Police Department Saturday morning just after he had learned what had happened to his geocache container. “All PD’s are aware of geocaching; why this got whacked out of shape I don’t know,” he said.

Geocaching containers come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from small matchbox-size boxes to military ammunition boxes to Tupperware containers. Caches can be purchased or homemade. Almost all contain a log book and a pen or pencil for geocachers to record their find. Many have small toys or trinkets inside that geocachers will take when they find the cache and exchange with an item of similar or higher value.

Geocachers even have a popular website where they can get GPS coordinates or maps to seek out caches to hunt for. The site’s map shows dozens of hidden caches around south Snohomish County.

Waterman said he has heard of caches being mistaken as a dangerous device at times, and “in hindsight, that shape and style container was probably a bad thing.” But his bigger concern is to reassure residents of the east side of Lake Ballinger that they are in no danger from geocache containers, and “to put all minds at ease in that area.”

Despite Waterman’s claim, the Washington State Patrol is still insisting the item found Friday night “was a small PVC pipe bomb.” Neither the WSP nor the Edmonds Police Department is commenting on the possibility that the container was found by someone who then modified it into something dangerous.

“There is no suspect and Edmonds PD is investigating,” said WSP spokesman Trooper Mark Francis.

– By Doug Petrowski/MLTnews.com

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13 Comments

  1. Oh lordy.

  2. WSP…our brightest group of professionals!

  3. WSP is feeling sheepish and wants to pretend that that geocache was a BOMB!!!!!! We’ve found that cache once and it was just as described and not a BOMB!!!!!

  4. Unfortunately this is what our world has come to due to a few individuals that want to cause chaos.

    • Cops?

  5. I am a geocacher and was in the woods at a local city park looking for mushrooms 2 days after anniversary of the Columbine massacre when I came upon an unusual cast-iron and PVC device unhidden at the base of a tree. That it was a geocache never entered my mind. I called the PD immediately. By the time the cop got there the geocache angle had dawned on me and I told him as much, but I also said there was no way I was going to touch it without confirmation. He looked at it for a few seconds and said he wasn’t inclined to touch it either. He took my info and cut me loose. I drove by later and there were cops all over, bomb squad, the works. I felt like a hero until I went home and checked the geocaching.com site and found that it was indeed a geocache. I got in touch with the officer and told him. He had never heard of geocaching (though there are many in the area). It was a puzzle cache that required a tool or special sequence of actions to open. I also sent the person who placed it a message about what happened and advised her to contact the police before they found her. Caches do come in many shapes and sizes but in this day and age I think disguising one as a bomb is pretty stupid. I am waiting for a geocacher to get blown up by some crazy muggle who switches out an innocent cache for a bomb.

  6. You pay these idiots to protect you? Sounds like all they’re trying to save right now is face, after being called out on their hysterically overblown “investigation”. No doubt they’re already putting in big budget requests for an ordinance disposal robot and new bomb squad van, all to combat the Al Qaeda menace in small town Edmonds.

  7. Well, Gail. It looks like those individuals have succeeded. And they didn’t even have to lift a finger this time!

  8. I never understand why the authorities simply don’t check the FREE geocaching website to see if a geocache is listed in that EXACT spot before calling the bomb squad??!!

  9. Was definitely a geocache. And this is exactly why none of my hides are PVC tubes. I think groundspeak/geocaching.com frowns upon using PVC tubes anymore. If they don’t then I can tell you most of the cachers do.

  10. So evidently it’s asking too much to label the container “GeoCache” with the website addy? How oblivious do you have to be not to realize it looks like a pipe bomb.

  11. You are all terrorists. I’m wearing my orange threat level underwear tomorrow.

  12. Is it really so hard to mark the cache container as a geocache? No it’s not. Even if you don’t want to have a huge sticker plastered over it, Use a UV pen or something like that. Yeah sure it won’t be visible to the general public, but that is something that can help the police & bomb squad(s) when they investigate the site. Besides how hard is it to mark the tube or end caps with the international Gx symbol?

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