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June 21, 2023

Police say teens tried to light sparklers, not dynamite or illegal firecrackers, inside Fresh Grocer in East Germantown

A bomb squad responded to the business at 5301 Chew Ave. on Tuesday. Police initially referred to the items as dynamite, then firecrackers, and now it's been revealed they were sparklers

Investigations Explosives
Fresh Grocer Explosives StreetView/Google Maps

Three teenagers were reported for attempting to explode illegal firecrackers at the Fresh Grocer store shown above at 5301 Chew Ave., police said. It's now been revealed the items were sparklers.

Philadelphia police now say that three teenagers, who allegedly were spotted trying to light illegal fireworks inside a Fresh Grocer on Tuesday afternoon, had actually attempted to ignite sparklers that were part of a Fourth of July display. Police initially said the teens tried to light "sticks of dynamite," and then later said the devices were illegal M-100 and M-80 firecrackers. 

The incident happened shortly after 5 p.m. at 5301 Chew Ave., near the campus of La Salle University in East Germantown.

On Tuesday evening, police said a member of the grocery's security team called 911 to report three teens dressed in black attempting to light sticks of dynamite. Authorities said the explosives had been taken by security staff and the three juveniles fled the store. 

The police department's bomb squad responded to Fresh Grocer and recovered 18 "explosives" to be analyzed. No injuries were reported, police said.

Then on Wednesday morning, investigators said they had identified the devices as illegal M-100 and M-80 firecrackers. 

But during a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Michael Cram downplayed the incident. 

"There was no explosion. No sticks of dynamite," Cram said. "It was nothing sinister. It was nothing planned."

When asked how the items in Fresh Grocer's fireworks display could have been mistaken for M-80s and M-100s after the bomb squad investigated the incident, the police department's public affairs unit explained that they were not typical sparklers. 

"When you hear sparklers, you probably think of the thin sticks children hold during parades. However, these were not that," a police spokesperson said. "These devices have the appearance of 'mini' sticks of dynamite - similar to M-100s or M-80s. However, after further examination by (Bomb Disposal Unit) personnel, they were found to be commercial-grade sparking/popping fireworks."

The teens at Fresh Grocer were approached before they could ignite anything.

"When confronted, the teens left and they left what amounted to be a package of sparklers," Cram said.

The teenagers were between 16 and 19 years old, police said.

The typical sparklers seen at Fourth of July gatherings are generally innocuous, handheld fireworks that burn slowly and emit bright sparks due to the presence of aluminum or magnesium. When lit individually, they reach high temperatures, but they're usually harmless as long as they are handled safely. When sparklers are lit in bunches, they can produce explosions and potentially cause fires. Sparkler bombs, made intentionally using multiple sparklers, are considered dangerous and may produce shrapnel. 

M devices, commonly called quarter sticks of dynamite, do not contain nitroglycerin or other chemicals often found in dynamite, and they don't pack as much explosive power. M-100s, sometimes called salutes, contain about nine grams of pyrotechnic flash powder, significantly above the federal limit of 50 milligrams for consumer fireworks. They are not made commercially. 

In recent years, M-100s and M-250s have been used to break into ATMs in Philadelphia, according to authorities who have investigated those incidents. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says M-100s can severely damage the face, arms and body. M-80s pose risks to fingers, hands and eyes when mishandled.