Homemade fireworks explosion kills man

Police have identified a 35-year-old Fern Forest man who died as a result of an explosion in his home early Saturday morning as Jesse Owen Thornton.

According to police, Thornton was in the process of making his own fireworks when the explosion occurred at about 2 a.m. Thornton suffered a critical abdominal wound and later died at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu.


There has long been an issue with illegal fireworks both on the Big Island and statewide, but police Lt. Rio Amon-Wilkins of the Hilo Criminal Investigations Section said this is the first incident he’s aware of involving homemade fireworks.

”This guy was on a very low scale of manufacturing homemade fireworks,” Amon-Wilkins said Tuesday. “It was described by his wife as more of a hobby. He didn’t have any stockpile of fireworks. He had a very small amount of material just to make homemade fireworks.

“He was using some chemical substances that are easy to purchase online and that wouldn’t have any restrictions to have them shipped here, either.”

Thornton’s wife and three children were sleeping in another room when the explosion occurred. They were uninjured by the blast.

“We immediately evacuated the wife and the three children from the house,” Amon-Wilkins said. “The area where this occurred is a pretty remote area. There are large lots. There are no residences very close to this residence. think there are some people who are wondering why there wasn’t more information released sooner by the police.

“If there had been some sort of further threat of danger to the community, we absolutely would’ve done that.”

Asked if the children were removed by Child Welfare Services, Amon-Wilkins replied, “There was no reason to believe that there was any type of danger to the children post-incident.”

According to Amon-Wilkins, the blast didn’t cause a fire.

In response to the explosion, police activated their explosives technicians, who are part of a Hawaii Interisland Bomb Squad response team. HIBS is an inter-agency squad comprised of personnel from the Hawaii, Maui and Kauai police departments who are trained in handling hazardous explosive materials and devices.

In addition, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Honolulu Branch, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded to help render the residence safe, process the scene, and collect evidence.

“Based on the very preliminary information that we had, which included several photographs of the victim’s injuries, we definitely needed to err on the side of caution when going back to” the explosion site, Amon-Wilkins said. “We didn’t want to send patrolmen back in there. We wanted to send people who have some sort of expertise in this field.”

In addition to the fireworks materials, police said several firearms, and 214 marijuana plants, ranging from seedlings to approximately 2-feet tall, were seized.

Amon-Wilkins described the marijuana operation as “not very complex” and said there is “no evidence” Thornton was growing the marijuana for manufacture into butane honey oil or other marijuana concentrates.

A check of Hawaii court records shows no criminal cases and just one traffic infraction, a 2019 citation for not using his seat belt.

Federal authorities are taking the lead in this ongoing investigation and the exact cause of the explosion is still under investigation.

Anyone with information that might assist in this investigation is asked to call the police non-emergency number at (808) 935-3311, or the Honolulu Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at (808) 566-4300.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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