Investigators confirmed Friday that an accidental rifle shot ignited up to 50 pounds of gunpowder in the basement of a Coram home, causing a Thanksgiving Day explosion that killed a 13-year-old boy and severely burned his father.
Marc Pitman, 41, and his son, Aaron, were in the basement reloading rifle shells, and one fired when the father either tried to force it into the chamber or eject it, Flathead County Deputy Sheriff Gordon Barthel said. The shot hit either a box of gunpowder or primers, he said. Primers are the small caps that ignite the main charge of a shell."It was enough of a blast that it blew quite a large-size hole through the main-level floor," Barthel said. "It's just fortunate that no one was standing there."
Nine other people were at the house for a Thanksgiving gathering, but none was seriously injured.
Marc Pitman ran up the stairs with his clothes on fire, and several people were burned putting out the flames.
The county fire investigation team probed the still-smoldering house Friday and found melted canisters for as much as 50 pounds of gunpowder, cans of primers, boxes of shells and the remains of at least 13 handguns in the basement.
They also found a rifle shell that confirmed their suspicions that a gunshot caused the explosion, Barthel said.
"We felt that something had to have happened with the gun," Barthel said, because the father "said the last thing he remembered was trying to get the shell out."
The house, owned by Harry and Maureen Pitman, Marc's parents, was destroyed. Detectives said the explosion and fire would have happened within seconds because of the gunpowder.
"We don't know where the muzzle of that rifle was pointed, but just a flash is all it takes," Barthel said. "You'd be amazed - it's just like a torch."
Officials recovered Aaron Pitman's body Friday.
Marc Pitman was in serious condition Friday in Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle with burns over more than 50 percent of his body.
No funeral arrangements will be made for the boy until his father's condition improves, Barthel said.