Military News

Officials: Reports of shots fired at Camp Shelby were backfiring truck

CAMP SHELBY -- A man officials had thought might be firing shots at Camp Shelby on Tuesday and Wednesday said he was backfiring his 1989 pickup truck, producing a sound similar to a gunshot, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation said.

Authorities identified the man as Alfred Baria, 61, of Brooklyn, Miss.

At a press conference led by Perry County sheriff's officials Wednesday afternoon, it was revealed Baria is charged with four misdemeanor charges of disturbance of the peace and two felony counts of possession of a weapon by a felon.

"Why in the world would you pull a stunt like that?" said Warren Strain, MBI spokesman.

The incident, which is still under investigation, triggered a huge response from state and federal law enforcement authorities, and made national headlines when it was thought there had been two shootings in two days at the South Mississippi military training site south of Hattiesburg.

Perry County Sheriff Jimmy Dale Smith said investigators so far have found no indication Baria has ties to any extremist organization or interest in the military's Jade Helm 15 joint operation exercises. Camp Shelby is providing "headquarter functions" for the massive drill, which started nationally July 15, a Pentagon official said.

For months before it began, Jade Helm has sparked Internet predictions and conspiracy theories the drill was a prelude to a federal takeover of the seven states where it is taking place.

After the shooting reports Tuesday and Wednesday, Mississippi Highway Patrol troopers and Perry County deputies stopped a vehicle about 11:20 a.m. Wednesday on Mississippi 29 near Peret Tower Road that matched witnesses' descriptions.

They took the driver, Baria, to the Perry County jail.

Deputies spotted a suspicious device in the truck and requested help from the Biloxi Police Department's bomb squad and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "One suspected destructive device was found and analyzed and X-rayed and was found not to be a destructive device at all," Smith said.

ATF agent Jason Denham said the device was a 6-inch PVC pipe with sealed end caps, noting pipe bombs often look similar to that. Denham said the pipe was even an olive-drab color typical of military items.

Deputies searching Baria's residence found a pistol and a long gun, prompting the two felony weapon charges, Smith said.

"Based upon our investigation so far, he has admitted to being the one driving the vehicle and admitted to being in those locations," Smith said

Under questioning, Baria claimed he could make his truck backfire when he wanted it to, Smith said.

Deputies found no shell casings in the area.

The incident began when soldiers reported hearing gunshots, Smith said.

Soldiers with the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team at Camp Shelby have been conducting training this week, including some live-fire exercises, Camp Shelby installation commander Col. Greg Michel said.

Soldiers on off-post traffic patrol heard what they thought were gunshots Tuesday and Wednesday morning. "There were no confirmations of actual gunshots, so therefore no weapons were actually visibly seen by the individuals," Michel said.

Michel said authorities weren't able to apprehend Baria until Wednesday when "additional harassing actions were reported this morning." The fact that Baria returned Wednesday led National Guard personnel to believe he was harassing them, Michel said.

The Jade Helm 15 drill is mainly for special operations commandos and has been taking place in South Mississippi all this month. The exercise at Camp Shelby involves 4,600 soldiers, National Guard troops and reservists from Texas and Mississippi.

In light of the recent killings of four Marines in Chattanooga, Tenn., Gov. Phil Bryant authorized the Mississippi National Guard to increase security, including allowing some Camp Shelby soldiers to be armed, Michel said.

"When this event happened, we were already at an increased force-protection level," the colonel said. "It's important to note that this event did not happen at Camp Shelby. It actually did not even happen on the training installation. It was just off the installation, in the sheriff's domain."

Michel said the incidents temporarily halted the soldiers' training exercise, but the training resumed and was completed as scheduled.

"We cannot control the actions of others," he said. "What we can do is control the way our soldiers react to it."

The U.S. Army and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation are also assisting with the investigation.