St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Prosecutors have filed murder charges in Friday’s house explosion near Black Jack that killed a man and three teenagers who were assembling fireworks in a garage.
Terrell Cooks, 37, and Seneca Mahan, 43, provided materials to create explosive powder that would be loaded into fireworks canisters at the home at 6680 Parker Road, according to charging documents.
Cooks and Mahan are charged with three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and two counts of unlawful possession of an illegal weapon.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported Friday that firework explosives were thought to be the culprit in the deadly blast. An adult, authorities allege, had been showing the kids how to load the canisters and attach fuses.
Cooks and Mahan, both of St. Louis, are being held in the St. Louis County jail in lieu of cash bail of $350,000 each. Cooks lives in the 5600 block of Greer Avenue, and Mahan lives in the 4100 block of Farlin Avenue.
St. Louis County prosecutors filed the charges Saturday before a fourth victim died, and now likely will amend the counts to include a fourth murder charge.
The explosion and fire killed four people: Travell Eason, 16; Christopher Jones, 17; Damario Cooks, 18; and William Jones, 21.
A 12-year-old child also was injured, but police could not provide details Sunday about how many others were hospitalized and what conditions they are in.
The explosion about 1:20 a.m. Friday leveled a garage and demolished the brick, four-family home. The blast shook nearby homes and blew out some neighbors’ windows. Debris rained down on a street more than a block away.
Investigators with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives uncovered evidence that numerous boxes of a chemical compound had been ordered online.
According to charging documents, Terrell Cooks wasn’t at the house when it exploded. But several witnesses told police that he was one of the “leaders of the manufacturing process” in the garage.
Federal investigators saw him moving boxes of chemicals used to make explosives to his vehicle later on Friday, authorities said. They searched another residence and vehicles connected to Terrell Cooks and found “large quantities of completed explosive weapons and components to manufacture them,” police said.
Court records say Terrell Cooks admitted that he and Mahan made “ground salutes,” fireworks launched from the ground that make a loud bang and bright flash. He directed the teenagers how to load the canisters and attach a fuse for lighting, the charges say. Charges say he told police the fireworks contained an explosive charge “far in excess” of Missouri’s legal limits.
The men would then sell the fireworks to a third party, police said. Neither Cooks nor Mahan had a license to make or sell fireworks.
The blast came 17 days before the Fourth of July holiday. On Sunday morning, numerous red-white-and-blue cardboard canisters still littered the yard on Parker Road. They were among the rubble at the property, along with children’s bicycles, clothing, basketballs and a backpack.
Family members of some killed gathered on the property Sunday and began to sort and clean up the massive damage as they grieved.
Ankeneth Corbin, fire chief of the Black Jack Fire Protection District, told the Post-Dispatch: “They were teenagers and kids visiting, and they were trying to make fireworks. If you buy 50 pounds of any explosive, you have just created a bomb.
“Electrostatic, anything, can cause a spark,” Corbin added.
Corbin said he hoped the tragic outcome could be a teachable moment, showing the devastating and deadly consequences of handling and making fireworks.
A woman lived at the split-level house with her four sons, ranging in age from about 6 years old to late teens, and a man also stayed there often, according to two neighbors. County records show the house is owned by a property management services company based in Marietta, Georgia.
The first police officers to arrive at the blast site found one person dead in the yard. Police found one victim with deep lacerations, possibly an amputation, near where the garage had been, according to dispatchers. Another person had burns and cuts. At least two were rushed to Mercy Hospital St. Louis, and paramedics took at least one more victim to Christian Hospital nearby.
“They were blown from the blast area,” Corbin said.
“EMS scooped them and ran,” added Thomas Torminio, Black Jack’s fire battalion chief.
The home was a burned-out shell with partial walls still standing. Investigators with the regional bomb and arson squad spent the day Friday searching the rubble for clues. They were especially focused on what had been a garage.
A cadaver dog was brought in, a fire official said.
Christopher Jones, who lived at the home that blew up, later died at Mercy Hospital St. Louis in Creve Coeur, according to the county medical examiner’s office. On Friday afternoon, hours after the explosion, investigators on the property discovered another body in the rubble, St. Louis County police Officer Adrian Washington said.
Washington announced just before 9 p.m. Saturday that four people in all had died. He said Eason and Cooks both lived in the 6600 block of Parker Road. The area is in unincorporated St. Louis County, west of Highway 367 and near Black Jack.
Washington said he didn’t know the relationship, if any, between Terrell Cooks and Demario Cooks.
Next-door neighbor Nichole Thomas heard the explosion and came outside to see several people running in the yard between her home and the one on fire.
“The fire was so big. The house is on fire, there’s people running everywhere, kids … “ she said. “There was one little boy, I didn’t know if he lived there or not, but he just kind of darted across. I said, ‘Honey, come here.’”
The boy looked at Thomas but kept running. He looked to be about 6 or 7 years old, she said.
Rescuers set up a triage station of sorts on a driveway across the street, on North Ranch Drive.
“It was pure chaos,” she said.
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