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Officials to burn down rest of building after fatal blast

Law enforcement officials watch the planned detonation inside apartment 11 at 109 Knaup Drive in Beaver Dam, where explosive materials were destroyed Wednesday, March 7, 2018. The explosive materials were discovered in the apartment after a fatal explosion Monday afternoon. Authorities continue investigating why the man possessed explosives.

Kelly Simon/Daily Citizen

The man killed in the Beaver Dam apartment building explosion last week was a 28-year-old quality control technician for a food manufacturer there who had a background in science, but his pastor said he “was not a bomb maker.”

Benjamin D. Morrow, 28, of Beaver Dam, was killed in the apartment blast, according to Roman Ryan of Joyce-Ryan Funeral Home & Cremation Services in Madison, which is handling Morrow’s funeral arrangements.

Law enforcement officials haven’t released Morrow’s name but Beaver Dam Police Chief John Kreuziger said investigators are presuming that the man killed was making bombs when the explosives he was working with detonated accidentally inside the apartment at 109 Knaup Drive. Residents from the building as well as others nearby were evacuated because of leftover explosive material found inside the apartment that was detonated twice later in the week.

Since the explosions dispersed chemicals throughout the building, plans have been made to burn it down Thursday morning rather than risk more explosions or hazards to workers, authorities said. Beaver Dam Fire Chief Alan Mannel and Kreuziger were in tears when they told residents Tuesday that they can’t collect their belongings before the fire because of safety issues.

“My heart is breaking,” Mannel said. “This has been one of the worst things of my fire safety career.”

Morrow moved to Beaver Dam to take a job with Richelieu Foods last June, according to his LinkedIn page. Previously, he had worked for more than three years as an assistant, then associate, scientist at PPD, a contract research company in Middleton, it said.

He was described as “a good young man” by one of two pastors who will preside at his funeral service Thursday in Madison.

“I’d love to defend Ben because he has been described as a bomb maker and he’s not a bomb maker,” said the Rev. Jerry Marsden, who was the pastor at Waunakee Baptist Church when Morrow attended services there. Marsden is now the pastor at Calvary Baptist Fellowship in Sturgeon Bay. He is one of two pastors who will preside at Morrow’s funeral service Thursday at Grace Baptist Church in Madison.

“He wasn’t a recluse as some have said he is. He was far from that. He had friends and a family who loved him,” Marsden said. “It’s a puzzle to all of us who knew him just what happened. That’s all I’m going to say out of respect for his family.”

Morrow grew up in Black Earth and was home-schooled before graduating from Pensacola (Florida) Christian College in 2013, according to his obituary prepared by Joyce-Ryan Funeral Home.

He was described in his obituary as “an excellent student with a thirst for knowledge” who worked hard and “had a good rapport with all those around him. Benjamin was an avid reader, enjoying history books especially. He also loved to hike at state parks, climb, lift weights and jog,” the obit said.

Law enforcement officials are expected to release the name of the man killed in the blast as soon as Wednesday, according to Kreuziger.

The FBI has determined that the man working with the explosives was acting alone, Kreuziger said. The police chief ruled out any connections to terrorism last week.

Beaver Dam officials were told to start planning to burn down the building shortly after the blast occcurred, Beaver Dam Fire Chief Alan Mannel said. He cited as a precedent the destruction of a home in North County, California, in December 2010 after illegal explosives and weapons were found inside.

Safety issues became evident when a bomb exploded Thursday while an expert from the Dane County Bomb Squad was checking the building following the controlled explosion that had been executed the previous day, according to Mannel. “There were some areas the FBI was not able to clear,” he said.

Two Beaver Dam firefighters will ignite the controlled burn at 10 a.m., according to Mannel. That is about 24 hours later than initially planned because of weather issues, he said.

Dodge County Emergency Management director Amy Nehls said about 50 percent of the renters have renters insurance. Each of the families has a case worker from Dodge County Human Services and Health Department and has been assisted by other volunteer agencies from around the county, she said.

The residents’ resilience and optimism have been amazing, Mannel said. “They have come together as a family,” he said. “They hug us and give us rounds of applauds and we are about to burn down their lives. They are incredible. I can’t say enough.”

Around 20 area fire departments, with at least 100 firefighters, will assist with the controlled burn, Mannel said. The FBI, Dane County Bomb Squad and the other agencies also will be on hand.

In addition to the evacuation of residents living or working in nearby buildings, roads will be closed at 9 a.m. within the area of Knaup Drive, North Spring Street from Woodland Drive to Industrial Drive East and Industrial Drive East to Highway 151 (but not including Highway 151). The closure will affect access to businesses on North Spring Street that do not have access to a secondary driveway, such as Kohl’s Department Store, Aldi’s Grocery Store and Taco Bell. Other businesses such as Mills Fleet Farm have a secondary entrance.

Beaver Dam Police Department Facebook page will be updated when the roads are opened up and when residents are allowed back in their homes.

Beaver Dam Daily Citizen reporter Terri Pederson contributed to this report.