Ari Misha Liggett: Weird chemicals spark calls to bomb squad, hazmat crew -- and a seven-hour closure of Boulder Homeless Shelter

The warrant out for Ari Misha Liggett's arrest didn't mention anything about potentially explosive chemicals. According to Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office bureau chief Bruce Williamson, the Centennial man was wanted for illegal weapons possession -- specifically, a silencer.

But Liggett's arrest at a UPS office yesterday afternoon led to a lengthy drama at a very different location: the Boulder Homeless Shelter.

And after a seven-hour-long closure of the facility, during which both the bomb squad and a hazmat crew were required to do their respective things, the Boulder Police Department still doesn't know for certain what the hell was inside the suitcase Liggett had stashed in a shelter locker.

BPD spokeswoman Sarah Huntley takes it from there:

"Arapahoe County arrested him during the early afternoon," she says. "He indicated that he'd been staying at the Boulder Homeless Shelter and had some materials in a suitcase in a locker there that could potentially be dangerous if someone didn't know what they were or how to handle them."

Armed with this warning, Boulder authorities arrived at the shelter at about 4:45 p.m., before any clients were at the site. "There were just five employees inside preparing for the evening," Huntley notes, "but we evacuated the building as a safety precaution."

Once that was done, the bomb squad stepped in. "The first thing we want to determine in a situation like this is if there's anything about the way the material was stored that would present a risk of explosion," she allows. "So they went in, opened the locker, inspected the contents, and determined that no explosives were associated with the incident.

"From that point, hazmat went in. Both teams were interested in X-rays of the items to get a sense of what they were dealing with without having to open the suitcase. Then, once they'd concluded that there were no explosive or radiological risk, they opened the suitcase."

They soon discovered a Mason-jar-type container and an original shipping package containing a substance Huntley describes as "granular." Field tests were done, but they were inconclusive. Liggett identified the substance to investigators, but until that's confirmed, she's reticent to share that information. All she'll say at this point is, "I'm told that it didn't present a public-health risk -- but if the person had changed its form, he said it could be very toxic."

The Boulder Fire Department didn't determine that the shelter was safe for occupancy until 11:45 p.m. -- a full seven hours after the whole drama began. In the meantime, the people who would ordinarily have bunked down there were offered temporary shelter at the Boulder Housing Partners building across the street -- although Huntley says, "A lot of people chose to mill around outside. It was relatively pleasant weather last night."

It could be a while before these folks know why their evening was turned upside-down; lab results aren't expected back right away, Huntley says. In the meantime, Liggett is reportedly being held on a $100,000 bond.

That can't be considered good chemistry.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts