Maimed By Class Project: Student Hurt In Gunpowder Blast

The ATF says a student working with gunpowder inside a metal pipe was a recipe for disaster.  Jonathon Strength was doing just that this morning in a maintenance building right next to Winona Elementary.

He lost part of his hand when the blast occured about 9:40 a.m.

"The information we have from one of the teachers from Winona High School is that there was a project going on involving manufacturing and detonating a homemade cannon," explained ATF Tyler Agent-in-Charge Clay Alexander.

The cannon was to shoot a projectile, to test the laws of physics.  The lesson: gunpowder can do a lot of damage, not just to buildings, but especially the human body.

"At this time all we definitely have is a piece of pipe, powder, and two end caps," Alexander said.

The ATF doesn't think 17-year-old Jonathon Strength had any kind of malicious intent, though capping both ends of the pipe made for a huge explosion when the powder lit.

"It doesn't fall in line with what the description of the cannon was supposed to be by the teacher, so we want to try to figure out what was going on, what the intent was," Alexander said.

Winona's superintendent is Rodney Fausatt.

"This is an isolated accident. I want to assure our community that our students safety and security is our number one priority," he said.

ATF said they had no reason to believe other students had similar devices on campus this day, but two other people who didn't want to be identified told KLTV many students have been building and setting off small cannons.

"As for the details of the accident, we are in the process of conducting a thorough review of this matter and can't release specifics at this time," Fausatt said before going to the hospital to visit Strength.

The superintendent could not say for certain if the student planned to take the device into a classroom Wednesday. Law enforcement searched the boy's home and found no additional evidence.

The ATF says the criminal investigation is over, but this incident still has many questions to be answered.

"Making gunpowder, making rockets, in a high school setting with teenagers usually is a recipe for problems," Alexander said.

He added it's actually quite easy to make gunpowder using materials found in most science classroom labs.

We spoke with Jonathon's brother Wednedsay who says it's hoped jonathon will be out of the hospital before the first of next week.  Charles Strength added he's sure his brother did not make the gunpowder himself.

Reported by Morgan Palmer.