Daniel Aikens, 40, of Alexandria, Louisiana, was sentenced March 28, 2023, to 16 years in prison for 8 counts of illegal explosive related charges by United States Senior District Judge Dee D. Drell announced United States Attorney Brandon B. Brown. On November 18, 2022, the jury found Aikens guilty of 3 counts of Making a Destructive Device, 3 counts of Possession of a Destructive Device in violation of the NFA, 1 count of Use of an Explosive to Commit a Federal Felony and 1 count of Conveying Malicious False Information.
The government presented evidence at trial that on September 12, 2019, an explosion occurred at Cloyd’s Beauty School in Monroe, Louisiana. The victim was placing boxes inside a commercial garbage can when the explosion occurred and sustained burns on his hands and face. Remnants of the device were collected by agents for analysis by the ATF laboratory and found to contain a rocket motor commonly sold at hobby stores and a pressure cooker. Law enforcement was unable to identify a suspect at the time but obtained video footage from Hobby Lobby in West Monroe, LA showing a black male purchasing a rocket motor two days before the explosion. Agents also collected numerous items for DNA analysis, including a piece of tape located on the device. Further, on December 20, 2019, officers responded to reports of an explosion at a Texaco gas station located in Alexandria, Louisiana. 911 dispatch operators received a call from an unknown male caller advising that an explosion had occurred.
On the morning of January 2, 2020, an employee at the Payday Today located on MacArthur Drive, Alexandria, Louisiana received a phone call from cell phone number 716-563-4031. The caller initially spoke with an employee about a set of lost keys. While the employee was in the parking lot looking for the keys, an explosive device detonated in a trash can near the building. The caller advised that he caused the explosion and demanded $10,000 in cash. The caller further advised that there was second device on the scene, and he would cause it to detonate if the employee did not comply. The caller then recited the employee’s home address and explained that he knew that she had three children. He then threatened to kill her and her family if she did not comply. The caller then asked why the employee was going there instead of the bank. This led the employee to believe that the caller was nearby and observing her actions. The employee advised the caller that she needed a bottle of water, but once inside the store, she panicked, and the call was disconnected. The employee ultimately did not provide any money to the bomber. Among the blast debris collected from the scene, investigators located metal pipe fragments, which is indicative of a pipe bomb detonation.
During the investigation, law enforcement contacted employees at a nearby gas station. The gas station is within approximately 400 feet of Payday Today and was determined to be an ideal overwatch location to observe any activity at PayDay Today. Surveillance footage retrieved from the gas station showed a white Jeep Cherokee at the location. A tall unidentified black male entered the store and made a small purchase, shortly before the explosion and call at PayDay Today. Surveillance footage even showed the male looking in the direction of PayDay Today while inside the store on the telephone. A BOLO alert was provided to Alexandria area law enforcement, with screen captures of a white Jeep Cherokee taken from the gas station and other businesses near the Payday Today bombing. 4 days later, the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office located the Jeep Cherokee and initiated a traffic stop. The driver was identified as Daniel Aikens and matched the description of the subject that was present at the gas station shortly before the explosion. Investigators also secured a search warrant for Aikens’ home and pursuant to the search, observed damage in the kitchen area consistent with a blast and located what appeared to be fragments of galvanized pipe and blast debris indicative of a pipe bomb detonation.
When arresting Aikens, agents secured his cellular telephone and discovered that he had been communicating with a friend via text message concerning the Monroe bombing. Agents later interviewed this friend and the friend stated that Aikens communicated with him after the Monroe and Texaco bombings. He even stated that Aikens called him on the morning of the explosion from his personal cell phone and allowed him to listen in as he called Payday Today from the “bomb phone.” Forensic examination of Aikens’ personal cell phone revealed Google Street View images of the Ferrand Street area near Cloyd’s Beauty School in Monroe, Louisiana. The phone’s web history showed a search for “how to build a pressure cooker bomb” and included a possible pdf download. A piece of black electrical tape was recovered from the pressure cooker device and found to contain a mixture of a known DNA profile found to be 1 trillion times more likely to have originated from Aikens. Cell phone and 911 records confirmed that the “bomb phone” was also used to call emergency services during the Texaco explosion on December 20, 2019. The 911 recording depicts a male caller (who law enforcement identified as Aikens) advising that he was passing by, there was an explosion, and requests law enforcement. Location data from Aikens’ personal phone showed that he frequented several stores in Lafayette, LA, the day before the Texaco explosion. Specifically, it showed Aikens making stops near Home Depot, Academy Sporting Goods and Hobby Lobby. Surveillance video from Home Depot showed Aikens’ entering the store at 12:33pm. Twenty-three minutes later, he purchased a drill bit, two metal pipe caps, a steel pipe and adhesive.
Aikens’ cell phone was then located near Academy Sporting Goods a short time later. Agents reviewed sales receipts around the time that Aikens was in the store. They located a sales receipt at 1:39pm for 2lbs. of Hodgdon H335, Rifle Powder. Included in that same purchase were two children’s fishing rod and reel combos and a lady’s rod and reel combo. All three fishing combos were later collected from Aikens’ girlfriend who advised that she and her two children had received the fishing equipment as Christmas gifts from Aikens. Aikens then traveled to the nearby Hobby Lobby. A review of the December 19, 2019, surveillance video showed Aikens purchasing what appears to be rocket motor starters. Aikens returned to the store on December 21, 2019, and made another purchase identical to the one on December 19.
“Simply put, Daniel Aikens is a domestic terrorist. The citizens of the Western District of Louisiana should be able to move about their respective communities freely on a day-to-day basis without fear of hurt, harm or danger and this defendant deserves every single day of the sentence handed down by the court. The sentencing hearing showed that the victims involved still are healing emotionally and I hope we brought them some manner of justice. The prosecution team and state, local and federal investigators are to be commended for a job well done in collaborating to ensure that this defendant is held accountable. Given the investigator’s swift action, no other individuals were harmed. I pray that the conviction and sentence will serve as a deterrent for anyone thinking of committing such a selfish and inhumane crime,” stated United States Attorney Brown.
“ATF will continue to prioritize and aggressively investigate crimes involving the criminal use of explosives. Explosives can lead to serious injury, damage, and create fear in communities like happened to the citizens of Alexandria and Monroe,” said ATF New Orleans Special Agent in Charge Kurt Thielhorn. “ATF remains vigilant working with its partners to keep the public safe by investigating and perfecting charges against those who use explosives with criminal intent.”
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), FBI, Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office, Alexandria Police Department, U.S. Marshal’s Service, Louisiana State Police, and the Alexandria Fire Department investigated the case, with the assistance of the Alexandria Public Safety Commissioner and the City of Alexandria Mayor’s Office. Assistant United States Attorneys Jamilla A. Bynog, LaDonte A. Murphy and Daniel J. McCoy prosecuted the case.