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Officials find booby traps after standoff

Booby traps left behind after a hostage standoff in Friona prompted local officials to call Cannon Air Force Base on Sunday for help.

SWAT officers discovered the devices when attempting to enter the parsonage of First Baptist Church of Friona after fatally shooting Robby Lynn Vaughn of Muleshoe, the man they say took the Rev. Mark Stovall and his family hostage on Saturday.

“The suspect had pulled the doors off some of the interior doorways, taken all the cabinets off the kitchen walls and screwed them into the door frames leading to the outside and had put booby traps on them,” said Capt. Brian Castner, commander of the explosive ordnance disposal flight at Cannon.

“He had placed one of these booby traps at every entrance to the facility and had wired them together so he would be able to detonate them all at the same time,” Castner said. “It would have messed up the SWAT guys pretty bad.”

Castner said he didn’t want to provide details of how the traps were rigged, but said they were comparable to the improvised explosive devices Cannon personnel disarmed while stationed in Iraq.

“Staff Sgt. Wayson Leaverton was our team chief for this operation who did the initial clearance and discovered all the wiring and the booby traps. He returned from Baghdad International Airport this past summer where he was doing the same kind of work,” Castner said. “What you hear about these improvised explosive devices they leave at the side of the road, that is what they had to deal with here.”

Cannon personnel initially tried to use a special military robot to search the rooms but failed.

“We have a robot that has a variety of cameras and other tools; we use that to keep people out of danger as much as possible,” Castner said. “Because the place was so trashed there was not a good way to get the robot around. Then we decided to just go in ourselves to take care of it.”

Friona Police Chief Royce Goodson said he was glad to have the resources of Cannon available to help his department.

“Our officers wanted to make sure the house was OK; we didn’t know what he had done and our officers didn’t have that expertise,” Goodson said. “We needed help. Especially if people had come in and had to clean the house up, we wanted to make sure it was safe.”

Goodson not only the entrances but other parts of the house had been booby-trapped, and some of the traps were in places only trained officers such as those at Cannon’s explosive ordnance team would know to check.

“It was household chemicals being used and light bulbs with something inserted so if they were flipped on it might have exploded,” Goodson said. “It could have injured an officer seriously if it had worked.”

Castner said Cannon personnel get called out to investigate reports of explosives fairly regularly, partly because Cannon has the only explosive ordnance disposal team for hundreds of miles and partly because of the amount of drugs passing through the area.

“Meth labs are infamous for having booby traps and (last year) we took care of some booby traps on a meth house,” Castner said. “We’re more than happy to be good neighbors. In eastern New Mexico and west Texas there is nobody else around who has our training and equipment so we are happy to go and provide help. It’s also training for us and we’re happy to have the opportunity.”

While Cannon gets a number of calls each year to check out possible explosive devices, that doesn’t mean all of them are actual bombs.

“Booby-trapping a system to intentionally hurt police or others is fortunately relatively rare,” Castner said. “We do a lot of responses to hoaxes, and we are happy to go to hoaxes. I would rather go 100 times to nothing than have local officials not call us if there is something there.”