SALEM, N.H. (CBS) — Officials said a man was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the basement of a home that exploded Monday evening.
Investigators were still trying to determine whether or not the body they found belonged to the same man who lived in the house before it was condemned in 2015, and if “devices” found around the home had been intended to keep those responding to the home out.
Salem Police Captain Joel Dolan said the investigation was hindered by barricades and apparent “booby-traps” found around the destroyed home, including boards with nails in them.
“There’s definitely a lot of barricades, and I don’t know if this was a long-term planned event, and I don’t know if we’ll ever know that answer,” said Dolan. “There definitely looked to be some logs and some trees cut down, and some boards with nails sticking out of it on the approach.”
He said the devices, as well as the fact that the property was already cluttered, were hindering the investigation into the cause and keeping investigators from going inside. Those challenges kept them from even approaching the home until around 11:15 a.m. Tuesday.
When they were finally able to get into the home’s basement, they found one white male dead there. They said he had shot himself with one of the two guns near him — a long rifle and a handgun — and that he had “numerous rounds of ammunition” around him.
“It definitely looks like this was something that was planned, or at least preparing to prevent either police or fire to get closer to the residence to either extinguish the fire or whatever else the person may have had planned,” he added.
Salem Fire Chief Paul Parisi identified the former owner of the home as Charles Hill, but it wasn’t yet known if it was Hill’s body that was found inside. As investigators weren’t able to get inside the home, they discovered the body by looking into a basement window from outside.
A car believed to belong to Hill was parked outside the home.
Dolan said they were familiar with Hill, and had been called to the property before.
Salem Police said Hill was arrested in 2015 on a criminal threatening charge, but prosecutors decided they couldn’t prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and didn’t bring it to trial.
Neighbor Betinho Moniz said Hill previously threatened him.
“He was like ‘I’m going to put a bullet in your head.’ He had a rifle on the corner of that driveway where that caravan is pointed at my window,” Moniz recalled.
“If you threw a party, anyone in the neighborhood, he would start banging on the aluminum there, on the propane tank, at four in the morning.”
WBZ-TV’s Anna Meiler reports
“This has been a long-standing problem with neighbor disputes in that area,” said Dolan. “I think this has been an issue with them for some time, and [the neighbors] are just looking for some resolution.”
Dolan said one such dispute was what started the incident Monday night when a neighbor called to complain about someone at the home stacking firewood against their new fence.
Officers responding to the call knocked on the door to no answer. Then, they heard a hissing noise, smelled gas, and decided to back up.
That’s when an explosion went off, causing part of the roof to blow away and the windows to break.
Eight nearby homes were evacuated as the Salem Fire Department fought the blaze.
“Our primary concern is the safety of the neighbors, the safety of the neighborhood, and the safety of the school children–the location is close to an elementary school,” said Dolan.
They stayed on scene overnight to fight hot spots, and said the fire was completely put out as of Tuesday morning.
Witnesses said they heard ammunition going off while the home burned, but officers say there were no shots fired during the incident.
One next-door neighbor even found a bullet casing in his driveway hours after the explosion Tuesday morning.
“We’ve had several reports last night when this first started happening that there were rounds or a series of small explosions in the building,” Dolan said.
The Nashua Bomb Squad, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and Southern New Hampshire Special Operations Unit were part of the investigation Tuesday.
Parisi said that, in addition to police having been called to the area in the past, the Salem Health Department issued an evacuation notice to the house in July 2015 due to unsanitary conditions.
“It has not been revoked, so he was not supposed to be in that house,” said Parisi. “There has not been electricity to the house since 2014, or water to the house since 2015, and the town was in the process of taking the house for tax reasons.”
Dolan praised his officers for their response, and added that, because of their caution after smelling the odor of gas, they were off of the property by the time the first explosion occurred.
“We are very relieved, it certainly could have had a far worse ending,” said Dolan.
Parisi said residents were allowed to return to their homes at their own discretion. He said that, since there was a fatality, the State Fire Marshal’s office was at the scene.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Lana Jones reports