ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Federal authorities charged a man on Monday with using an explosive device to damage an Old Navy store in Albuquerque, where a string of overnight fires and vandalism during the busiest shopping weekend of the year damaged Starbucks shops, a Barnes & Noble, and other establishments in New Mexico’s largest city.
Albuquerque police arrested David A. Hickman, 28, early Saturday morning after he drove away from the Albuquerque shopping centre where an officer who was on patrol said he had heard “small explosions,” according to a federal criminal complaint. Hickman was transferred to the custody of federal authorities who are investigating other local arson and vandalism cases since early Wednesday.
Hickman has not been linked in federal documents to the other suspicious fires in Albuquerque, although Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden had said during a news conference over the weekend that the spate of crimes targeting businesses would end with an arrest that came the day Hickman was taken into custody.
Federal authorities, meanwhile, have not confirmed which, if any, of the cases are related.
It was not known whether Hickman had obtained a lawyer Monday.
A fire was set at a Barnes & Noble near a shopping mall the same night as the explosions at the Old Navy store, authorities said. There was water damage inside the bookselling retailer’s Albuquerque location, while a tinge of smoke remained outside the Old Navy store.
Several mornings earlier, a blaze set at Project Defending Life, an anti-abortion ministry, damaged the organization’s chapel and foyer, while a massive blaze destroyed a luxury condo complex under construction near the University of New Mexico.
The Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent its national response team to assist in investigating the condominium fire that resulted in an estimated $9 million in damage.
On Friday morning, “suspicious devices” were left at three Albuquerque Starbucks coffee shops, with one device causing minimal damage, the FBI said. What the devices were is unclear.
The complaint filed in the Old Navy fire said officers discovered an assault rifle, ammunition, and a box labeled “Tannerite” in Hickman’s vehicle with jars containing a white substance.
Tannerite is an explosive commonly used in targets at some shooting ranges and is made by combining ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder.
Hickman also had a loaded handgun in a holster attached to his belt and emergency flare tucked into his waistband, authorities said.
Federal officials did not say in court documents whether they had interviewed Hickman. They also did not identify a potential motive in the case.
The fires that came in the days before and after Black Friday were a setback for Barnes & Noble and Old Navy especially. At Barnes & Noble, some booksellers were at the store Monday helping with cleanup while others were working shifts at another store in Albuquerque, company spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating told The Associated Press.
She said Barnes & Noble, which is the largest retail bookseller in the U.S., wouldn’t lay off employees while it cleans the fire-damaged location during the holiday season, and no one is losing pay.
Jennifer Poppers, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based Gap Inc., the parent company for Old Navy, said the company would co-operate with law enforcement and was grateful no one was hurt.
“In the meantime, we are focused on supporting our employees,” Poppers said.
A federal complaint said that the Albuquerque Old Navy store that was hit early Saturday had been expected to make $40,000 sales that day. The store remains closed.