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What’s Causing Mysterious Explosions Around Rogers Park? Police Investigating Link To TikTok Bomb Challenge, Official Says

Loud explosions have vexed neighbors for months. One theory is the sounds are tied to a TikTok trend, the alderperson said.

The corner of Estes Street and Rockwell Avenue in West Ridge on Jan. 5, 2022, where a loud explosion was previously reported.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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ROGERS PARK — Loud explosions have alarmed and confused West Ridge and Rogers Park residents for months.

The blasts have caused windows to rattle and fences to break, residents said. They have flocked to social media and community police meetings to report hearing the booms and to share theories on their origins.

Mostly, residents want to know what’s behind the mysterious booms that cause their children to wake and their pets to go scurrying.

“We know what gunshots sound like,” said Rogers Park resident Linda Peace. “It was an explosion, and it wasn’t fireworks. It’s more like a cannon.”

The incidents have vexed neighbors, but authorities are now looking into a theory that might explain the blasts: a social media trend.

Police are working to determine if the blasts stem from a “challenge” on social media platform TikTok where people detonate homemade bombs, said Ald. Maria Hadden (49th).

After responding to calls of explosions and investigating the matter for some time, local investigators suspect the TikTok trend is the most likely explanation, Hadden said.

“There’s no definitive evidence, but they’re digging into it,” Hadden said.

The homemade bomb or “bottle bomb” trend sees social media users film themselves making explosives out of household chemicals and products, according to media reports and TikTok videos.

The TikTok trend has caused issues in some northern European countries, including Finland, where a police department issued a warning about homemade bomb challenges after they led to a “string of injuries and property damage,” according to the Helsinki Times.

In the United States, people have burned themselves recently in Connecticut and Louisiana while performing the TikTok “whoosh bottle challenge,” where people ignite a bottle of alcohol.

Bottle bombs have existed before TikTok, with online videos showing the stunts. The use of bottle bombs caused a nuisance around Baltimore in 2012.

At a West Ridge meeting Tuesday, local police officials said they have a theory in the case but declined to further discuss the investigation.

“We have an idea, and we’re just watching after it,” a police officer with the 24th District said at the meeting. “We haven’t had any evidence of any kind of damage or anything to show there was an actual explosion. We’re definitely looking into it more than you think.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The corner of Claremont and Birchwood avenues in West Ridge on Jan. 5, 2022, where two weeks prior a loud explosion was heard and set off nearby car alarms.

Dozens of Far North Side residents have reported hearing the blasts, with some saying the frequency picked up in December. Reports of the blasts grew so frequent on a popular Rogers Park Facebook page that its administer banned future posts on the topic.

Hadden said she’s heard a half dozen booms near her Rogers Park home. She began hearing from neighbors about the issue, too.

“Personally, I thought someone was putting fireworks in a dumpster,” Hadden said. “It seemed to increase [in frequency] a bit at the end of the year.”

The blasts have been difficult to describe, and it’s hard to pinpoint where they’re coming from, neighbors and police said. The sound is different from the typical noise that emanates from a big city, making it more unnerving, neighbors said.

The blasts coincided with a mid-December vandalism spree that saw car windows smashed in Rogers Park, leading some neighbors to think the incidents were related. Hadden said a connection between the two incidents is unlikely.

“At first, I thought it might be fireworks or gunshots,” said Rogers Park resident Jessica Patrick, whose 6-year-old daughter has been frightened by the blasts. “It’s not a simple firecracker. It’s way louder. We don’t know where it’s coming from.”

After hearing the blasts and hearing from residents on the issue, Hadden reached out to local police and the Office of Emergency Management and Communication, which handles 911 and 311 calls, she said.

The agencies worked together to develop the TikTok lead, the alderperson said. The lack of a sulfur smell in the vicinity of the explosions led investigators to rule out fireworks as the source, she said. Hadden has also reached out to local schools to see if principals are aware of the trend, she said.

It may be hard to track down the culprits of the explosion, but it is worthwhile to explore the TikTok lead so community leaders can combat the trend, Hadden said.

Other TikTok trends have caused community fears, including one in December that challenged users to make threats at schools. School districts across the country beefed up security, and parents kept kids home from school in the wake of the threats.

Local police said anyone hearing an explosion should call 911.

“People really need to stop,” Hadden said. “This is likely adolescents doing this and thinking it’s not dangerous. Obviously, it is dangerous.”

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