Watching the vest-adorned mannequin at the end of the tarmac, the crowd of Crossroads law enforcement and emergency officials braced themselves.

“Suicide vest in 3, 2, 1,” said Explosives Enforcement Officer Alex Guerrero, of The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

A ball of rapidly expanding orange flame flashed several hundred feet away, and a cloud of white smoke and flying debris erupted followed fractions of a second later by a dull thud.

The crowd winced as they heard and felt the ensuing shock wave.

Thursday afternoon at an old runway at the Victoria Regional Airport, more than 50 members of various Crossroads law enforcement and emergency organizations saw firsthand the destructive power of 16 varying explosive devices. The demonstration was the second part of an educational event hosted by ATF officials Thursday preceded by a classroom lesson. Another identical event will follow Friday.

At both events were officials representing the U.S. Marshal’s Service, police departments from Victoria, Yoakum and Seadrift; constables’ offices in Victoria and Calhoun counties, fire departments in Victoria, Port Lavaca and Fannin; as well as the Victoria Office of Emergency Management.

“The whole day was just awesome,” said Firefighter Kathy Stratman, 72, an 11-year veteran of the Fannin Volunteer Fire Department, adding, “It showed us some explosives that we weren’t aware of. When we get on a scene, we never know what we run into.”

During the demonstration, Stratman and others listened to a presentation led by Guerrero underneath a brutal South Texas afternoon sun. Despite their discomfort, they were rewarded with the opportunity to see, hear and feel various explosives that ranged from Molotov cocktails to C-4, a powerful explosive used by many militaries, to the widely available tannerite.

Although bombs used for domestic and international terrorism may have attracted the imagination and fears of the public as of late, explosives wielded by criminals have always been a danger, said Guerrero, who was the lead ATF bomb technician during the March 2018 Austin bombings.

Although ATF officials agreed terrorism has yet to strike in the Crossroads, they said authorities can never be too prepared.

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“It’s just like the burning of the mosque, you never know until it happens,” Guerrero said of the 2017 arson at the Victoria Islamic Center.

Those in attendance agreed.

“You can never have too much training,” said Senior Patrol Officer David Brogger, spokesman for the Victoria Police Department. “This is a rare opportunity.”

In fact, ATF Special Agent David Taylor, who organized the two-day educational event, said it had been at least 10 years since Crossroads authorities were given a similar opportunity.

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached jwilcox@vicad.com or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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