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Unexploded shell rattles low-key holiday

Monday morning at 9:33 a.m. the Harvard Police and Fire Departments were alerted that a piece of unexploded military ordnance had been found on the south side of town. The person who found the ordnance was not identified, and police said only that the piece had been found in a field.

Firefighters were at the Bellevue Cemetery observing a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony when the call came in. The Fire Department’s Deputy Chief Charles Nigzus, police Sgt. James Babu, and a few additional fire crew members responded. They identified the piece as hazardous and called in the state police bomb squad.

Harvard Fire Department Lt. Bill Barton, Deputy Chief Charlie Nigzus, and Harvard Police Sgt. James Babu (far right) watch as a member of the Massachusetts State Police Bomb Squad holds a detonator moments before destroying an unexploded 75-mm World War II-era artillery shell behind the Department of Public Works on Depot Road. (Photo by Lisa Aciukewicz)

The person who found the ordnance had transported the item in their vehicle to a spot off Still River Road by the post office where they showed it to a friend who happened to be a member of the Fire Department. The friend then alerted authorities.

“Boom!” The shell is safely detonated in a sand pile behind the highway shed on Depot Road. (Photo by Tim Clark)

Officials weren’t certain how the item got to the location in town where it was found before being moved to Still River Road but suggested that it may have originated from nearby Fort Devens, an inactive U.S. Army installation. “[This] is not something you or I would buy at a firework shop,” explained Nigzus. “It’s military in nature. How it ended up where it did is anyone’s guess.”

Sgt. Robert Bachelder and troopers Robert McCarthy and John Ragosa from the Massachusetts State Police Bomb Squad arrived at the Still River Road location and were able to identify the item as a 75 millimeter World War II era artillery round. They then transported it to the Department of Public Works where it was buried and detonated remotely while Engine 2 and an EMT squad stood by.

Both the Fire Department and the bomb squad warned that civilians should not be handling weapons such as this. “The person who found this was very lucky,” said Nigzus. “If anybody finds something like this, leave it alone and call the authorities.”

The Harvard Police Department can be reached at 978-456-1212.

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