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Phoenix police make arrest in neighborhood explosions investigation

KNXV Houston Willis.jpeg
Posted at 3:07 PM, Mar 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-05 10:38:12-05

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department has made an arrest in connection with a series of explosions heard in several northern neighborhoods.

Police documents say in November 2018, a vehicle was seen on surveillance footage near Sunrise Elementary School where an explosion happened shortly after. Someone was able to give 911 dispatchers a license plate number when the vehicle sped away.

RELATED: Series of explosions rocks Phoenix neighborhood

In December, Phoenix police released an image of a "vehicle of interest" in the case, a mid-2000s White GMC or Chevy pickup truck.

Phoenix police released an image of a 'vehicle of interest' in their investigation.

On January 6, officers observed a bright flash in the area of 3600 W. Topeka Drive and observed a truck matching the suspect vehicle leaving the area. Officers stopped the vehicle at the time, but the suspect denied involvement.

During the press conference, police said they received a tip from the community the eventually led to the identification of a suspect.

Police said 44-year-old Houston Willis was taken into custody at his residence near 35th Avenue and Deer Valley Road on March 4 after investigators gathered probable cause to issue an arrest.

Police documents say drug paraphernalia was found on his person and in his vehicle at the time the arrest. An explosive device was also found in his truck, but rendered safe.

Willis had two handguns, one shotgun, a crossbow and ammunition in his home.

Officials found that Willis had a felony conviction for drug possession, paraphernalia and weapons misconduct in 1995. He was given a sentence of 45 years concurrent.

His new charges from this case include multiple drug charges, explosive charges, weapon possession by a prohibited person and more.

Watch the full press conference in the media player below:

The explosions started in October 2018 and were generally in the area between Thunderbird Road and Union Hills and 27th to 43rd avenues.

Police have received more than 150 calls in connection to the explosions.

Steve Hooper, a bomb expert who spent decades training FBI bomb technicians said the incidents could be considered terrorism and likely involved devices more powerful than typical fireworks due to how far away the explosions could be heard.

"I don't think a cherry bomb is sending a shock wave a mile away, I think these are significantly bigger than a cherry bomb, significantly more powerful," Hooper said. Police said those reported hearing one of the explosions or seeing a flash described it as "louder than a gunshot."

Authorities said that the damage caused from the explosions was mostly landscape and property damage.

A motive for the explosions has not yet been determined.

Willis faces three charges of depositing an explosive device and 15 other charges.

Phoenix police say additional charges are possible as the investigation continues.