Skip to main content
Press Release

Pittsburgh Felon Charged with Possession of a Destructive Device after Throwing a Homemade Explosive from a Moving Vehicle in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville Neighborhood

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Pennsylvania

PITTSBURGH – A Pittsburgh man has been charged federally with illegal possession of an unregistered destructive device and being a felon in possession of a destructive device after throwing an incendiary device from a moving vehicle on January 3, 2021 in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood, United States Attorney Scott Brady announced today.

Charles Baker, 33, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is charged by criminal complaint with knowingly and unlawfully possessing a firearm, that is, a destructive device, which was not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. In addition, Baker, who has previous felony convictions, is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in this case a destructive device. Baker surrendered to law enforcement on Tuesday evening. He will make his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh today at 2:30 p.m. via video teleconference.

"Our city is safer today thanks to the rapid response by the Pittsburgh Police and ATF, who worked tirelessly to identify and apprehend Charles Baker," said U.S. Attorney Brady. "Acts of wanton violence will be met with the swift hand of justice."

"It goes without saying that possessing and detonating illegal explosive devices is a crime that ATF and our law enforcement partners take very seriously," said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in charge of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division. "ATF along with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and all our other local, state and federal partners will continue to investigate violent crimes which threaten the safety of our communities."

"Once again the trusted partnership and vigorous level of cooperation between the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, the ATF, and all of our federal and local law enforcement partners has resulted in the swift flow of information and the administration of justice," said Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert. "We are also grateful for the assistance from residents of the City of Pittsburgh who are also committed to keeping our city safe."

According to the complaint, the explosion occurred in the 3600 block of Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. It caused damage to an unoccupied, parked white 2020 Subaru Forester. That damage included partial dislodging of the rear passenger side quarter panel, breaking off and dispersing plastic material from the rear portion of the vehicle, and causing several nails from the device to penetrate the surface of the passenger side rear tire. As explained in the complaint, when items such as nails or other small metal pieces that would serve as projectiles are added to bombs, those items can cause harm and are evidence that those devices were designed as weapons.

The post-blast scene was initially processed on January 3, 2021, by Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (PBP) and several items of evidentiary value were recovered that were believed to be used in constructing the device. These items include fragments of a Twisted Tea can, green cloth possibly from a Crown Royal bag, dozens of nails/screws, car parts, and a white powdery substance. These items were submitted to the Allegheny County Forensic Lab for testing.

PBP also obtained video from a neighboring residence which showed an older model Chevy Silverado truck driving westbound on Penn Avenue. As the Silverado passed by the Forester, a device was thrown from the passenger window of the Silverado and landed in the rear passenger area of the Forester. When the device was thrown from the Silverado, it was burning in a manner consistent with an improvised initiation system or wick. The device continued to burn and generate smoke for approximately 20 seconds from the time it was thrown from the Silverado until the time it exploded.

The Silverado was captured on various cameras operated by the City of Pittsburgh as well as cameras positioned on homes in the area. This distinctive looking truck was captured on a license plate reader and the vehicle’s registered owners were identified.

A separate video was obtained from a residence on Ligonier Street that shows the distinctive looking Silverado traveling southwest on Ligonier Street and making a right-hand turn into a parking lot adjacent to the Trinity Mission Baptist Church at approximately 8:56 p.m., within one minute of the explosion. Two individuals were captured on camera coming from the vicinity of the parked Silverado. The individuals both appear to be white males. One is noticeably taller than the other. The two individuals exited the parking lot where the Silverado was parked and walked towards the vicinity of Ligonier Street. As the two individuals were walking across Ligonier Street, the camera captured one individual say something to the effect of "so it didn’t even go off," as the other laughs. At approximately 9:21 p.m., the shorter individual with the hooded sweatshirt and reflective sneakers was seen running from the vicinity of Ligonier Street towards the parked Silverado. At approximately 9:32 p.m., the Silverado exited the church parking lot.

On Monday, January 4, 2021, ATF Special Agents received information that the taller of the two suspects seen on the video is Charles Baker, who lives on the third floor of a residence on Ligonier Street and has a history of making homemade explosive devices.

ATF conducted a query of Baker’s criminal history and learned that he was convicted of several offenses that would prohibit him from possessing firearms and ammunition to include the following felonies: Burglary (convicted August 8, 2011), Conspiracy to Commit Burglary (convicted August 8, 2011), Criminal Trespass-Break Into Structure (convicted February 15, 2018), and Manufacture, Delivery, or Possession with Intent to Manufacture or Deliver a

Controlled Substance (convicted February 15, 2018). For the last conviction, Baker received a sentence of nine – 18 months’ imprisonment.

On January 4, 2021, at approximately 8:50 p.m., ATF Special Agents conducted surveillance at a home and observed the Silverado parked at a private residence. ATF Special Agents observed cosmetic changes to the appearance of the vehicle, however, the license plate was still attached to the vehicle.

ATF obtained Pennsylvania driver’s licenses for the two registered owners of the suspect Chevy Silverado and through a driver’s license photo identified one of the owners as the shorter of the two individuals seen crossing Ligonier Street and the driver of the Chevy Silverado during this incident.

On January 5, 2021, a federal search warrant was obtained to search Baker’s residence, located on Ligonier Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15201; (2) the residence of one of the owners of the Silverado; and (3) the Silverado truck used in the bombing.

The search warrants were executed on January 5, 2021, at approximately 2:30 p.m. Baker was not home at the time of the search warrant execution. The owner of the Silverado was home at the time of the search warrant execution. He agreed to speak to law enforcement and informed law enforcement that Baker asked him for a ride on January 3, 2021, and that once in the vehicle while they were driving on Penn Avenue, Baker pulled out some type of device, lit the device with a lighter and threw it out the window.

It is unlawful for an individual to manufacture, possess, or transfer a Destructive Device without first being registered in ATF’s National Firearms Transfer Record (NFA) registry and without serial numbers being issued for said NFA Weapons (i.e.; Destructive Devices). Federal law prohibits an individual who has been convicted of a felony from possessing a firearm or ammunition.

The counts charged in the criminal complaint carry a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison, and a maximum fine of $250,000.

U.S. Attorney Brady credited the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, for conducting the investigation leading to the charges in this case.

Assistant United States Attorney Nicole Vasquez Schmitt is prosecuting this case for the government.

The details contained in the criminal complaint are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated January 6, 2021

Firearms Offenses
Violent Crime