National Guard soldier found at murder scene with explosives in Florida

An Army National Guardsman is charged with possessing an unregistered destructive device and unlawful storage of explosive material after investigators discovered the items at the scene of a double homicide in Tampa, Florida.

Pvt. 1st Class, Brandon C. Russell, 21, was found by Tampa police officers crying outside his door Friday evening when murder suspect Devon Arthurs led them back to the apartment that the four had shared in an affluent suburb north of the University of South Florida.

Russell, wearing camouflage, had just returned from National Guard duties as a ‘25Q,’ Systems Operator Maintainer, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

A Tampa Police report says police investigators went to the apartment in Tampa after Arthurs, 18, told them he murdered his roommates Jeremy Himmelman, 22, and Andrew Oneschuk, 18, the Times reports.

While searching the garage, investigators found a cooler full of a white, cake-like explosive material known as HMTD, or hexamethylene tiperoxide diamine, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court. Nearby, they found explosive precursors — chemicals that can be mixed to create explosives — including potassium chlorate, potassium nitrate, nitro methane and more than a pound of ammonium nitrate in a package addressed to Russell, according to the Times.

Russell, a member of C-Company from the 53rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, is an admitted neo-Nazi who kept a framed photo of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on his dresser, the Times reports.  Timothy McVeigh served in the Army as well and was a veteran of Desert Storm.

Russell admitted to being a national socialist, manufacturing the HTMD and owning the precursors. He also admitted he is a member of a white supremacy group called the Atomwaffen, German for “atomic weapons.”

When investigators questioned Russell asking why he had the explosives, Russell said he was in a USF engineering club in 2013 and used the HMTD, in part, to boost homemade rockets and to send balloons into the atmosphere, according to the Times.

“Based on my training and experience, HMTD is too energetic and volatile for these types of uses,” FBI Special Agent Timothy A. Swanson wrote in the complaint.

Murder suspect Arthurs told investigators that all four roommates shared neo-Nazi beliefs until he converted to Islam, according to the complaint.

Russell was arrested on a FBI warrant Sunday in Key Largo. It was unclear what he had been doing since law enforcement’s first contact Friday, but the FBI said in email to the Times that Key Largo “is part of the active investigation and will not be commented on at this time.”

The Florida National Guard is keeping its comments close hold.

“We clearly do not condone Russell’s behavior,” said William Manley, Deputy Communications Director for the Florida National Guard. He continued, “We’re not a law-enforcement agency, so we’ll wait to see what the investigation reveals.”

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  • Jim Verchio is a staff writer for Popular Military. As a retired Air Force Public Affairs craftsman, Jim has served at all levels. From staff writer to Editor-In-Chief, he has more than 30 years experience covering military topics in print and broadcast from the CONUS to Afghanistan. He is also a two time recipient of the DoD’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award for journalism excellence.

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