Arrest Made After Pranks Clear Theaters Near D.C.

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WASHINGTON — A 20-year-old man was arrested Saturday in a series of dangerous pranks that led to the evacuation of several movie theaters in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of Washington, authorities said.

Manuel Joyner was arrested at his home in Bowie and charged in relation to a prank and evacuation at a movie theater in Largo, Maryland, on May 24, Prince George’s County fire officials said. The theater was evacuated after someone used a device described as a “bottle bomb,” in which an acid and a base are combined inside a sealed plastic bottle, causing it to explode.

Later Sunday, Joyner was charged in three similar incidents at a movie theater in Tysons Corner, Virginia. The multiplex was evacuated on May 18 after two such devices burst, and police said acid and metal had been placed inside the bottles. Another evacuation occurred at the same theater a week later because of one of the devices.

The chemical reaction caused by combining the chemicals rapidly releases gas, which bursts the sealed vessel. Authorities didn’t say which chemicals were used in the Maryland and Virginia cases, but baking soda and vinegar are sometimes used to achieve the reaction.

No one was injured in the Maryland and Virginia cases. Fire investigators have said similar devices could injure bystanders because of flying plastic when the bottle explodes or as a result of the acid inside.

Joyner was charged in Fairfax County, Virginia, with three counts each of creating, possessing or using an explosive; arson of an occupied public building; and use of weapons for a terrorist act, officials said.

In the Maryland case, Joyner was charged with manufacture, possession and detonation with a destructive device, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison, fire officials said.

Another of the devices was set off at a theater in Alexandria, Virginia, in early April, though Joyner hasn’t been charged in that case.

A person who answered the phone at Joyner’s home on Sunday said she was unaware of the arrest and did not say whether he had an attorney.

Following his arrest, officials said, Joyner’s home was searched by investigators from several jurisdictions, as well as the FBI and ATF.

Online court records show Joyner pleaded guilty in late 2012 to malicious destruction of property and was given probation before judgment.

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(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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