A Tennessee man was sentenced to 46 months in prison and two years of supervised release today after placing an unarmed explosive device at North Carolina’s Asheville Regional Airport in October 2017. Michael Christopher Estes, 47, formerly of Tazewell, Tenn., admitted to placing an explosive device in the airport’s baggage claim area filled with nails, a shotgun cartridge and “material that is known to explode violently” if ignited. He also told investigators that the incident was intended to be a training exercise for law enforcement.
Estes, who pleaded guilty in January, dropped the bag off at 12:30 am. on Oct. 6, 2017, and authorities were alerted to its presence six hours later. A clock on the device was set for 6 a.m., but was not turned on, according to the Justice Department. The device also tested positive for ammonium nitrate, “a widely used and regulated bulk industrial explosive.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation canvassed the area and found that earlier that day, Estes bought a backpack from an Asheville REI with his store membership number. He was also seen on video surveillance buying materials from Walmart and Lowe’s.
Estes told law enforcement officials that they were not prepared to combat terrorists and that he left the backpack at the airport so that officials would “now know how” to make a similar device, and that he left a similar backpack in the woods across from the airport.
The words “FOR GOD & COUNTRY” were written on the strike strip of a matchbox that was attached to the device, and “FOR ALL THE V/N VETS OUT THERE!!!” was written on the tape attaching a portion of a clock to the device.
Estes was arrested the following day, Oct. 7, and charged with unlawful possession of explosive material. He had just been released from a week in prison after a 2015 felony assault charge.