NEW AUGUSTA, Miss. — Soldiers participating in a training exercise on a Mississippi military base heard them Tuesday and Wednesday — noises they believed were gunshots at the edge of the Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center.
The man who apparently made the noises told authorities who arrested him Wednesday that they were only his battered pickup backfiring.
Still, Alfred Baria Sr. remains in jail, charged not only with misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace but also felonies. That's because police found guns at his mobile home and the 61-year-old is barred from having them after a previous felony conviction.
Baria's son said he understood concerns about military safety, but said he felt officials were overreacting following repeated public statements about gunfire and a large police search.
"I feel like they were just embarrassed," Alfred Baria Jr. told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday evening at the home he shares with his father in remote southern Perry County.
Local and state authorities say they're still checking out the father's story, though Wednesday's charges don't allege he shot at soldiers.
"Other charges could be forthcoming," said Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation. "It depends on what the investigation yields."
Wednesday's arrest eased some tension at one military installation that has tightened security after a gunman opened fire in July on two military centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Camp Shelby closed one of its gates, and gate guards are now armed following an executive order from Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant.
The worries began Tuesday morning when soldiers performing traffic control for a training exercise involving 4,600 National Guard and Army troops heard what they thought were shots from a maroon pickup driving down a road on Camp Shelby's southern edge. Then it happened again Wednesday morning.
"There were no confirmations of actual gunshots, so no weapons were actually visibly seen by individuals," Camp Shelby commander Col. Greg Michel said.
Authorities found the maroon Isuzu pickup about 11:20 a.m. on Wednesday when Alfred Baria Sr. drove past officers on a state highway just south of New Augusta.
Officers took him into custody at gunpoint, calling a bomb squad from Biloxi to investigate plastic pipes and other items found in the truck. All the while Wednesday, armored vehicles chugged through 134,000 acres of pine forest while fighter planes staged mock attacks overhead.
"One suspected destructive device was found and analyzed and X-rayed and was found not to be a destructive device at all," Perry County Sheriff Jimmy Dale Smith told reporters.
Alfred Baria Jr. said his dad's pickup explodes every time someone shifts gears and steps on the gas.
"It actually sounds like it hits you, it's so loud," the son said.
Sheriff Smith said he couldn't verify whether the truck backfires.
"I have not tested the vehicle so I'm not willing to say one way or the other on that part of it," he said. The sheriff said Baria admitted driving the truck in the places and times where the noises were heard. Smith said Baria hasn't admitted firing any shots and authorities have found no shell casings.
The son said he believed his father was driving along the southern border of Camp Shelby to a store when soldiers heard the noises.
And those pipes? Two big, long ones were for plumbing a newly built auto repair shop in the backyard, Alfred Baria Jr. said. Small pipe containers painted green with caps were for storing auto parts and hardware, he said, showing a reporter one on a shelf inside the shop.
Authorities interpreted the container as a possible pipe bomb. Jason Denham, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told The Clarion-Ledger that the father "more than made it, he painted it. ... He wanted it to look like" a pipe bomb.
Alfred Baria Jr. holds one of the containers that he says he and his father, Alfred Baria Sr., use to transport hardware and parts Aug. 5.
Photo Credit: Jeff Amy/AP
Alfred Baria Jr. said he owned the rifle and pistol that netted felony charges for his father, not realizing the father, previously convicted on drug charges, couldn't be anywhere on the property with them.
Smith said Baria would likely be appointed a lawyer at a bail hearing Thursday.